Siskiyous exempt from tighter stream buffer rules
Private and industrial timberland owners around the Rogue Valley will be exempt from tighter no-logging buffers around fish-bearing streams enacted Thursday for the rest of Western Oregon, despite scores of local streams already deemed too warm for salmon.
The Oregon Board of Forestry on Thursday narrowly adopted an expansion of the size of streamside riparian zones that will be left in place during logging operations on private lands in Western Oregon to shade and cool the streams for species such as salmon that need cold water.
However, the board exempted the so-called "Siskiyou Region" encompassing virtually all of Jackson and Josephine counties, where streamside riparian zones are less dense than elsewhere west of the Cascades, according to the department.
Not being able to thin more streamside areas was deemed an increase wildfire risk in a region more akin to Eastern Oregon than the rainy northwest part of the state, the board concluded.
"These forests are more like the east-side forests than the west-side forests," state forestry spokesman Brian Ballou said.
Buffers on private lands in this region will remain 20 feet on both sides of fish-bearing streams in the Siskiyou Region, which runs between the Cascade and Coast range crests, the California border to the south and the Rogue-Umpqua Divide to the north.
Elsewhere in Western Oregon, the buffers will be 60 feet wide on both sides of small fish-bearing streams and 80 feet on both sides of medium fish-bearing streams.
The decision means the state Forest Practices Act will be amended to reflect those changes. It does not impact streams on public lands under different buffer restrictions.
An industry representative said private timberland owners here should be pleased to sidestep regulations written largely with a different region in mind.
"I'd presume the forest landowners, non-industrial and industrial, would think it's a good thing to keep from getting more restrictions," said Dave Schott, executive director of the Medford-based Southern Oregon Timber Industries Association.
"I think people down here are really happy with the Oregon Forest Practices Act as it is," Schott said.
The new rules were adopted after federal regulators earlier this year ruled that Oregon's logging rules insufficiently protect streams and salmon in Western Oregon, and critics of Thursday's decision say this doesn't change that.
"They're not meeting water-quality standards," said Natalie Bennon, communications director for the group Pacific Rivers.
Bennon said the new restrictions throughout most of Western Oregon won't protect streams and fish, and if the forestry board wanted to tease out the Siskiyou Region it should have studied it independently to ground-truth the exemption.
Bennon pointed to a bevy of area streams — including dozens of tributaries of the Illinois River, Applegate River and several other Rogue Basin streams — already on a state Department of Environmental Quality list as being too warm for salmon habitat, particularly in the summer.
These streams need more protection from logging and larger, more protective riparian zones than the current ones that don't meet the needs of cold-water streams and salmon, Bennon said.
"It's a very important area with a lot of biodiversity, and we want them to prove that the area doesn't need wider buffers," Bennon said.