State adopts new logging rule for landslide-prone areas

OLYMPIA — A new state rule approved Tuesday makes clear that anyone seeking to log in landslide-prone areas might have to provide additional scientific data to show the safety of the public is adequately protected.

The state Forest Practices Board, an independent panel that regulates logging, voted unanimously to adopt the rule that’s been in the works since May 2014.

That’s when the state Department of Natural Resources revised its timber harvest application to clarify that the agency may require additional geotechnical reports before being allowed to log near potentially unstable slopes or landforms.

Commissioner of Public Lands Peter Goldmark ordered the change following the deadly Oso mudslide and Tuesday’s action cements it into place.

“I’m grateful and pleased that today the Forest Practices Board unanimously adopted this policy as a rule,” Goldmark said in a statement. “By this action, the Board ensures there will be an inspection of these particular applications by licensed geologists, and that decisions by DNR will be informed by expert information.”

The intent of the rule is to ensure adequate study is done when logging is planned in areas with deposits of glacial sediment where deep-seated landslides have occurred in the past and are at risk of occurring again. This are the same type of geologic conditions in the hill above Steelhead Haven, the neighborhood that was wiped out by the Oso mudslide.

So far, independent scientists examining the Oso landslide have been careful about blaming any single cause for the disaster. The most-recent study links the extent of damage to the near-record rainfall.

Environmentalists have argued that deforestation leads to greater saturation of soil and a higher risk of catastrophic landslides. In the past, they have asked the state to ban logging in areas with a similar geology to the hills above Oso until all such locations are clearly identified and mapped.

They have not considered this rule a significant change because the agency already had the power to demand more study if it wanted.

“What happened today is a non\event,” said Peter Goldman, director and managing attorney of the Washington Forest Law Center. “It’s something DNR said we have anyway and they just wanted to be sure it was clear.”

A leader of a statewide association of timber firms and forest landowners said its members support actions that ensure forest practices that are safe and protective of public resources.

“Other sectors need to do the same analysis to ensure their practices and decisions regarding public safety are up to the highest standards,” said Karen Terwilleger, senior director of forest and environmental policy for the Washington Forest Protection Association.

In developing the rule, DNR staff estimate those required to submit more information will pay around $5,000 for an additional geotechnical report. However, the Washington Forest Protection Association contends the price could be closer to $10,000 per report.

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

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