New rule: Study hazards near proposed logging

OLYMPIA — State Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark on Friday ordered expanded studies for logging proposals in areas near unstable slopes that could raise issues of public safety.

Under the new rule, those applying for timber harvest permits must provide the Department of Natural Resources with a detailed review of the proposed site by a qualified geologist. The requirement is not retroactive and does not apply to any pending harvests that have been approved by the state.

The type of geotechnical report envisioned by Goldmark is already required when a logging tract itself contains potentially unstable topography, according to a DNR official. Goldmark’s action extends that requirement to proposed logging near unstable features, according to information provided by his office.

When questions began to be asked if a timber harvest conducted before I took office may have contributed in some way to the tragic Oso landslide, I promised that DNR would thoroughly investigate these concerns using sound science and take appropriate action,” Goldmark said in a written statement.

Goldmark, who was first elected in 2008, is referring to a probe into a clearcut carried out in 2005 on the hill above Steelhead Haven, the neighborhood wiped out by the deadly March 22 mudslide. The area in question was not part of the actual slide.

While that internal review is not finished, the new requirement should add a layer of scrutiny “to help properly identify potential hazards and avoid impacts,” Goldmark said.

The commissioner said he is acting on recommendations issued in February following release of an exhaustive study of the causes of landslides in southwest Washington in 2007. That review examined the topography and the state’s timber harvest policies. The recommendations emerged from scientists involved in the state’s Adaptive Management program, which informs the state Forest Practices Board as it considers changes in policy.

Meanwhile, the Forest Practices Board is likely to delve into the new requirement when it meets next week in Olympia. The board is responsible for developing regulations for logging in Washington.

On Monday, the board is holding a special meeting in which it will learn what’s known about the causes of the mudslide in Oso, which claimed the lives of at least 41 people. Members also will discuss the study of the 2007 landslides.

On Tuesday, the board will consider whether to suggest any changes in state logging policies and practices.

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

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