Wading into northwest forest policy is kind of like skinny dipping with piranha only more dangerous and probably dumber. Nonetheless, as anglers who care deeply about the health of our salmon and steelhead runs and the rivers that nurture them we can’t sit quietly by as the BLM puts great local rivers and the fish that inhabit them at risk.
The Western Oregon Plan Revision is the BLM’s attempt to ramp up logging and dramatically reduce riparian protections on 2.6 million acres of land in the western part of the state managed by that agency. The timber industry asserted in a lawsuit that the Northwest Forest Plan cannot apply to Oregon BLM lands, most of which were acquired through the Oregon and California Railroad Act. Instead of defending itself, the agency rolled over and scrapped the Northwest Forest Plan in favor of the WOPR.
Now, the Northwest Forest Plan is far from perfect and federal timber managers have at times had difficulty getting the cut out–but no parties are blameless in that regard. There is middle ground but industry, federal agencies, conservation interests and environmental groups have not always sought it.
Despite its perceived shortcomings, the Northwest Forest Plan has had remarkable success in at least one regard: improving riparian conditions. It is no secret that salmon, trout and steelhead need cold clean water with complex habitat in order to thrive. The Aquatic Conservation Strategy implemented by the Northwest Forest Plan is a cornerstone of Oregon’s salmon recovery efforts and has been successful. Scientists have documented improvement in riparian conditions in over 64% of the streams sampled since implementation of the Aquatic Conservation Strategy. The new plan would eliminate this proven management tool on BLM land.
It gets worse. The BLM also plans to reduce existing Northwest Forest Plan riparian buffer widths by 50% on fish bearing waters as well as on intermittent streams. This will result in over 130,000 acres of previously protected riparian forest being opened to logging. This is not just an academic issue. It puts the waters we love to fish at risk:
The Siuslaw, the Umpqua, the Alsea, the Rogue, all will suffer. Look at the Smith for god’s sake! (You can see a larger version of the map by clicking on it.) It isn’t just conservation and environmental groups sounding the alarm. The Oregon Chapter of the American Fisheries Society (state, federal and tribal biologists) had significant concerns about the WOPR and these concerns were largely echoed by NOAA Fisheries and the EPA.
There are over 700 miles of streams under the BLM’s control listed as water quality impaired under section 303d of the Clean Water Act. The largest culprit is water temperature affecting 569 river miles. Reducing buffers could lead to further damage to our rivers and streams due to higher water temperatures as well as increased salmon smothering sediment. Kicking them while they are down: is this how we want to manage our treasured runs of salmon and steelhead?
In addition to further harming already degraded habitat, the Plan will degrade existing high quality habitat. Anchor habitats are pockets of high value habitat that serve as strongholds for endangered salmon and steelhead. This map of the Siuslaw basin shows anchor habitat and BLM land:
The bottom line is that the BLM’s Plan will harm the waters that you fish. This aggression will not stand.–KM
Currently, the WOPR is sitting on the Governor’s desk as he evaluates the plan for consistency with Oregon law. Please write him a personal email as an angler expressing your concern about this plan. If you don’t have time for a personal email just copy the following text and paste it into this link:
Dear Governor Kulongoski:
I am writing you as an angler to express my concern about the Western Oregon Plan Revision. The BLM’s plan to reduce riparian reserves on fish bearing streams and eliminate the Aquatic Conservation Strategy is unacceptable. The WOPR is certain to harm our already struggling populations of salmon and steelhead.
Resource production is an important use of public land; however, the BLM is also an important partner in restoring our salmon and steelhead populations. As such it is critical that they follow the sound, scientifically based standards of the Northwest Forest Plan. They have not. The BLM’s proposal does not do enough to protect or restore beleaguered salmon and steelhead populations.
Angling for salmon and steelhead occupies a special place in northwest culture and the fish must be protected. Thank you for your consideration of my comments.
(Your name here)