Dr. Paul Adams Responds to Oregonian Water Quality Story

On working forestlands, the Oregon Forest Practices Act requires that some trees and snags be left behind during harvest for wildlife habitat purposes. Along with buffer zones along forest streams, road-building activities must be approved under law and water runoff after harvest from the state’s plentiful rainfall is closely monitored. (Photo courtesy Oregon Forest Resources Institute)
On working forestlands, the Oregon Forest Practices Act requires that some trees and snags be left behind during harvest for wildlife habitat purposes. Along with buffer zones along forest streams, road-building activities must be approved under law and water runoff after harvest from the state’s plentiful rainfall is closely monitored. (Photo courtesy Oregon Forest Resources Institute)

UPDATE: HW Policy & Mgmt – AdamsP 07 is a copy of the Adams paper that Loup Loup referred to.

This article was run in the Oregonian on Aug. 20 entitled “Do Oregon’s clear-cut and pesticide buffers protect drinking water from creeks, rivers? “. It makes one wonder if this was timed to raise this question at the same time as Senator Wyden is working on the O&C lands issue- especially when it is not clear that the story fairly depicts the OSU studies, and the Oregonian did not publish Dr. Adams’ response. Fortunately, I was able to obtain a copy of his response and post it here:

Forestry and Drinking Water – Still a Vital Combination

Forestry and clean water, it’s an issue with many angles. On Wednesday, The Oregonian focused on a local controversy while also raising broader questions about forest stream protection and clean, reliable drinking water supplies. But even among these questions and views of the local controversy, some key facts can be gleaned (quotes italicized below from the original Oregonian article) and further illuminated. The latter observations draw from my 30+ years of experience with forestry and watershed research and education.

“Timberlands are easier on water quality than cities and farms.” Not only that, timber harvesting and other forestry activities occur at some level on nearly all of Oregon’s major municipal watersheds. Drinking water quality from these areas remains high because of typically excellent source water and very strict standards for treatment and monitoring, although localized or short-term problems sometimes occur. This is true even in watersheds that have little or no timber harvesting because water quality in forest streams can vary widely with storms and other natural influences.

“Oregon’s rules for private forests are less stringent than in neighboring Washington…” Yes, but this begs the question of whether those stringent standards result in an effective balance of benefits from those forest lands. During 1994-2006, a period when much stricter rules were enacted, western Washington lost about 185,000 acres of forest land to development and other uses. Oregon remains committed to maintaining its private forests in forest land use, and that includes serious consideration of the cost-benefit balance of forestry regulations.

“Stream buffers for aerial herbicide spraying are also smaller in Oregon than in Washington.” Again true, but does water quality sampling in Oregon reveal any current problems? A 2012 analysis by the USGS of the McKenzie River basin, which is Eugene’s water source and includes extensive industrial forests, states: “Forestry pesticide use is not considered a likely threat to drinking water at the present time.” Instead, in this mixed land use basin, “…urban pesticide use is potentially an important source of pesticides of concern for drinking water.”

“The state Forestry Department is working with timber companies, university experts and other agencies on three studies to better gauge the effects of logging on streams.” But contrary to the oversimplified, negative findings exclusively mentioned in the article, these studies are showing very encouraging results about the effectiveness of current forest practices and Oregon’s regulations in protecting water quality, including fish habitat. Some refinement of our rules may follow as the picture becomes clearer but there is no compelling evidence that dramatic changes are needed to protect water quality.

Other long-term water quality data from state agencies already support the general effectiveness of forest practices in Oregon. Oregon’s forest owners also have a history of working collaboratively with water users, and since 1997, they have invested over $95 million in Oregon’s Plan for Salmon and Watersheds. More broadly, these landowners provide an exceptional array and quality of ecosystem services, for which typically they receive no direct compensation. And with persistent pressure to sell or modify forestland for development and other uses, the questions of regulatory costs, benefits and unintended consequences must be taken very seriously.

Paul W. Adams is a Professor and Forest Watershed Extension Specialist at Oregon State University. Any opinions expressed are his own.

Note that Dr. Adams is the same as LoupLoup referred to in his comment here.

7 thoughts on “Dr. Paul Adams Responds to Oregonian Water Quality Story”

  1. Dr. Adams is a highly respected scientist and one of the many nationally recognized professionals on the staff at Oregon State. In my opinion the Oregonian article he responded to was an example of less than professional journalisim. It is unfortunate to have such superficial writing about a complex subject as forest management and domestic water supplies.

    In the case of the Oregon and California land discussions often overlooked are the laws governing the management of the land passed by Congress. The discussions also often ignore the impact of fire and other negative forces on these lands. Also given little serious thought are the economic and social needs of the communities and counties influenced by the O&C lands.

    Conversations about O&C lands as well as the national forest lands need to consider the management direction establsihed by Congress for such lands, and also consider the requirements of 330 million people for natural resources. Anotter reference useful for serious discussion of publ;ic land mangement is the National Resource Planning Act, passed by Congress in the early 1970’s, to focus on natural resource needs of Americans and talk about where these resources will be generated. .

  2. People who are concerned about the potential effects of forest herbicides or logging on water quality should compare their fears with documented history. In 1954-1955, Portland water drinkers (I was one) suffered an estimated 50,000 cases of giardia (“beaver fever”) — I wasn’t one of those, though: http://public.health.oregon.gov/DiseasesConditions/CommunicableDisease/DiseaseSurveillanceData/Weekly-MonthlyStatistics/Documents/mar04b.pdf

    The 1950s event occurred via water from one of the most “protected” and herbicide- and logging-free municipal water sources in history — the Bull Run watershed, which has been set aside for water quality since 1892 and is currently about 650,000-acres in size. According to a 2003 assessment by the Portland Water Board: “The Bull Run watershed is an unfiltered source that produces some of the highest raw water quality of surface water sources in the U.S.” Most other urban water sources in the Willamette Valley are pumped directly from the Willamette River, which undoubtedly is far more polluted from urban and agricultural sources than anything it could pick up from a logging road or any other common forest management practice.

  3. Obvious misalignments of logic too numerous to list at the moment in the response of Dr. Adams.

    Very little to fault with the original journalism, in fact – from the relatively expert perspective on journalism, of this journalist – a nice introduction to the public on these complex issues, and a very refreshing change from the parroting of industry propaganda that remains normative here behind the timber curtain.

    • OK, Kevin, Pepsi Challenge Time: Can you list three of the most egregious examples of the “obvious misalignments of logic” that are otherwise “too numerous to list?” Because I’m not seeing anything of the sort — and particularly the “obvious” ones. What is so obvious to your reading, and why do you say it is illogical?

  4. The National Marine Fisheries Service’s (NMFS) 2011 status review of the Oregon Coast Coho salmon said the Orego Forest Practices aren’t working out as well as suggested by Dr Adams:

    “Burnett et al. (2007) suggested that widespread recovery of coho salmon in the OC Coho Salmon ESU is unlikely unless habitat improved in areas of high intrinsic potential on private lands. The effects of timber harvest on fish and habitat is likely most pronounced on private and state lands. Requirements for management of riparian zones on these lands are less than on federal lands. Current forest practice regulations reduce the size of the streamside riparian area to less than that needed to maintain the full suite of ecological processes provide by riparian areas and allows for the removal of trees from within this zone, which further reduces ecological effectiveness. Additionally, there is no requirement for protection on small intermittent streams, which are important sources of wood (Reeves et al. 2003, May and Gresswell 2003, Bigelow et al. 2007), on private lands. These streams are given consideration on a portion of each stream on state lands. Botkin et al. (1995) and the IMST (1999) found these regulations to be insufficient to improve or recover habitat that is currently degraded.

    The recent availability of Landsat images, along with the development of tools for analysis, allowed a comprehensive, uniform picture of human disturbance patterns that was previously unavailable. This analysis showed that disturbance has been widespread in the ESU, that some basins experienced much higher disturbance than others, that rates of disturbance are relatively constant, and that the most intense disturbance has moved from federal to private lands, presumably in response to policy changes.

    … [C]urrent policies guiding the management of riparian areas on state and private lands have limited or no management requirements for this important potential source of wood.”

    Stout, H.A., P.W. Lawson, D. Bottom, T. Cooney, M. Ford, C. Jordan, R. Kope, L. Kruzic, G.Pess, G. Reeves, M. Scheuerell, T. Wainwright, R. Waples, L. Weitkamp, J. Williams, and T. Williams. 2011. Scientific conclusions of the status review for Oregon Coast coho salmon (Oncorhynchus kisutch). Draft revised report of the Oregon Coast Coho Salmon Biological Review Team. NOAA/NMFS/NWFSC, Seattle, WA.

    Compelling scientific criticism of ODF’s inadequate stream protection requirements goes back much farther:

    Independent Multidisciplinary Science Team (IMST). 1999. Recovery of Wild Salmonids in Western Oregon Forests: Oregon Forest Practices Act Rules and the Measures in the Oregon Plan for Salmon and Watersheds. Technical Report 1999-1 to the Oregon Plan for Salmon and Watersheds, Governor’s Natural Resources Office, Salem, Oregon. http://www.krisweb.com/biblio/gen_ognro_imst_1999_1.pdf

    National Marine Fisheries Service 1998. A Draft Proposal Concerning Oregon Forest Practices. http://www.coastrange.org/documents/NMFS_FP_pdf.pdf

  5. Are we supposed to take that photo and photo caption seriously? Or as a joke, because it’s getting pretty close to being Onion-worthy.

    On working forestlands, the Oregon Forest Practices Act requires that some trees and snags be left behind during harvest for wildlife habitat purposes.


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