Landmark Lawsuit Resolved: Oregon Takes Steps to Protect Salmon Habitat

The Oregon Department of Forestry and an environmental group settled a lawsuit on Thursday, 23 March 2023. This means that there will be more space between logging roads and streams.

In 2018, the Center for Biological Diversity sued the department, saying it was putting federally protected coho salmon at risk by building logging roads in Tillamook and Clatsop state forests that caused sediment to flow into streams.

The lawsuit says state workers cut roads through forests for clear-cutting and selling timber. These roads were on steep slopes above streams that coho salmon on the Oregon Coast depend on.

Oregon Takes Steps to Protect Salmon Habitat
Oregon Takes Steps to Protect Salmon Habitat

It says that because there were not enough buffers, sediment got into the streams and sometimes caused landslides.

β€œWe brought this case because the department’s practice has been usually not to buffer those high-energy stream channels on steep slopes,” said Amy Atwood, the center’s attorney.

β€œWe’re glad to see that through this agreement, the department has taken some strides in the direction of starting to do that. It’s not everything that we would have hoped for, but it is a big step in the right direction.”

As part of the agreement, ODF will increase the distance between a stream and a forest from 25 feet to 120 feet. This means the department can’t log or thin trees in these areas.

These rules protect all streams with fish and large and medium streams that usually don’t have fish. The department will also establish barriers around some upland areas where landslides begin.

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The federal government has protected coho salmon on the Oregon Coast998. Non-federal landowners who want to follow the Endangered Species Act can make a habitat conservation plan that shows how they will protect endangered species on their land.

Mike Wilson, head of the ODF’s forestry division, said that the department’s first attempts to make a plan in 2001 “did not come to fruition” for several reasons, including disagreements between forestry officials and logging businesses.

Instead of making a plan, the department decided to meet federal protections by regularly surveying species. But the Oregon gov. says this method is expensive, so in February 2022, the department started working on a plan to save habitat. The goal is to finish it this summer.

Wilson said the plan calls for all state forest land to have 120-foot-wide buffer zones that can’t be cut near streams.

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