Washington heightens scrutiny of timber harvests near geological hazards
Commissioner of Public Lands Peter Goldmark has announced new requirements for proposed timber harvests near potential landslide hazard areas. Applicants for harvest permits will be required by the Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR), which Commissioner Goldmark administers, to provide a detailed site review by a qualified geologist when DNR determines that a timber harvest near unstable slopes could affect public safety.
“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,” said Goldmark. “While that investigation is ongoing, DNR is taking the added precaution of requiring site-specific geologic review of any harvest application involving potential geological hazards that is in close proximity to public safety considerations. This added scrutiny provides more information to help properly identify potential hazards and avoid impacts.”
“This is part of my commitment to ensure that Washington State has a scientifically rigorous and ecologically sustainable regulatory environment for timber harvest,” said Goldmark. Since Goldmark took office in 2009, the State Forest Practices Board, which is chaired by Commissioner Goldmark’s delegate, has eliminated loopholes that allowed non-specific and outdated Watershed Analysis prescriptions for landslide areas, improved harvest protections for riparian zones, strengthened protections for cultural resources, and convened a special northern spotted owl conservation advisory group.
Commissioner Goldmark is acting on recent recommendations from the independent science and policy program, the Adaptive Management Program, which is in place to evaluate Washington’s Forest Practices Rules. A study of 2007 landslides in southwest Washington resulted in recommendations delivered in February, 2014 from the Program’s multi-stakeholder policy committee. No changes to current Forest Practices Rules were recommended, but the group recommended that DNR develop additional documentation requirements and make other improvements, such as seeking funding from the legislature to acquire higher-quality LiDAR topography data.
DNR’s new requirement that a “geotechnical report” be prepared is consistent with the policy committee’s recommendations. Geotechnical reports are already required for applications that propose to harvest timber on potentially unstable topographic features. DNR’s action extends that requirement where public safety considerations exist in the area, even when the application itself does not include potentially unstable features.