Panel to assess threat of catastrophes similar to mudslide

OLYMPIA — The state panel responsible for regulating logging will hold a special meeting next month to discuss the deadly mudslide in Oso and threat of similar catastrophes occurring elsewhere in Washington.

The Forest Practices Board will hear from scientists on how the state detects landslide hazards and consider if existing rules for harvesting timber in areas with steep slopes are adequate for protecting residents from damaging landslides.

In that context, the board will focus part of its May 12 session on what is — and what is not — known about the devastating mudslide that claimed the lives of at least 41 people.

“I want to look at the science. I want to know what the actual root cause of the landslide was,” said board member Bob Guenther, who owns 110 acres of forest land in Lewis County.

“I don’t want to get caught up in the emotion of it. There’s talk that cutting some trees here or there caused it,” he said. “If that turns out to be what took place, then okay but I don’t want to have a predetermined judgment.”

While no decisions are planned that day, the board could direct leaders of the Department of Natural Resources to conduct studies or take actions during its regular meeting May 13.

“Everybody has questions. Everybody wants to make sure that our processes have been implemented correctly,” said board member Tom Laurie, a senior adviser to the head of the state Department of Ecology. “I think we will find areas for improvement. It seems like we can always find areas to improve.”

The Forest Practices Board is an independent state agency established by the 1974 Forest Practices Act. It develops rules for logging on public and private lands, setting standards intended to protect public safety and resources such as fish habitat while maintaining a viable timber industry.

The 13-member panel includes Snohomish County Councilman Dave Somers.

Aaron Everett, state forester with the Department of Natural Resources, is chairman of the board. He scheduled the special meeting.

“Broadly, the board needs to take stock of the scientific basis for landslide protections,” Everett said. Then they can deliberate on possible revisions after that.

Meanwhile, an investigation continues into logging that occurred a decade ago above the slide area. Commissioner of Public Lands Peter Goldmark ordered the probe in hopes of answering questions of whether the harvest was a factor in the cause of the slide.

Everett said the investigation is ongoing and did not know if any information would be available for the board.

The meeting is scheduled to start at 9 a.m. in Hearing Room 1 of the John A. Cherberg Building, across the street from the state Capitol.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com.

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