Private Forests Profile

Oregon’s logging laws are the weakest in the Northwest

Most of the clearcuts Oregonians and visitors see these days are privately owned by timber companies. Private timber-producing forestlands in Oregon are managed according to the Oregon Forest Practices Act (OFPA) first adopted in 1971. Despite the propaganda from the Oregon Forest Resources Institute (OFRI) - a tax-funded public relations arm of the timber industry -telling Oregonians otherwise, the OFPA’s conservation measures are the weakest in the Pacific Northwest. 

Shortcomings of the law have led to environmental damage and human health concerns.

  • Abundant clear-cutting and short logging rotations have turned diverse forests into tree farms.
  • Excessive use of herbicides and other chemicals has poisoned land, air, and water, and destroyed forest understories.
  • Careless road construction has led to unnatural peak streamflows, landslides, erosion/sedimentation, and blocked passage for fish and wildlife.
  • Failure to avoid landslide-prone areas and adequately protect riparian areas has damaged waterways.
  • Irresponsible logging has left inadequate habitat for wildlife, while replanting has created dense plantations that pose high fire risks.

Clean Water at risk

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has ruled that Oregon’s state logging rules don’t do enough to protect fish habitat and drinking water in Oregon’s streams and rivers to comply with the Clean Water Act. Rules under the OFPA fail to adequately address runoff from roads, potential damage from landslides, buffers for streams, and herbicide pollution. The Federal government has denied $1.2 million in funding because the State has failed to address these issues.

Inadequate protections from aerial spraying of chemicals

Oregon’s industrial logging laws encourage the aerial application of toxic herbicides to suppress vine maple, alder, and other native plants – everything other than merchantable Douglas-fir trees. Each year, helicopters spray weed killers on more than 165 square miles of Oregon timberland, an area larger than the city of Portland. This spraying occurs under the most industry-friendly standards in the Pacific Northwest.

The timber industry’s practice of using helicopters to deliver toxic chemicals is generating growing concern and opposition from rural residents over chemical exposure. Aerial spraying can allow chemicals with known adverse health effects, such as glyphosate, 2,4-D (a chemical component of agent orange), and atrazine, to drift long distances. It can also result in chemical run-off that puts drinking water, salmon and wildlife at risk.

Major problems with Oregon’s herbicide spraying laws include:

  • No required no-spray buffers around homes, schools, streams, or wetlands.
  • No required advance notification before spraying near homes and communities.
  • The public—including Oregonians who have been exposed to potentially toxic chemicals through aerial spraying—are forbidden from accessing details on what chemicals were used.

More info and resources on chemical spraying here.

Campaign to reform forestry practices 

Recognizing the impact that damaging practices on private lands have on shared values and resources - from drinking water and recreation to fish and wildlife habitat - Oregon Wild has begun to expand its public lands focus to address the important issues facing Oregon’s rural communities, clean water, and quality of life. We are committed to seeking reforms of the Oregon Forest Practices Act and other state policies. In the coming years, these reform efforts may take several forms - from seeking reform of the Board of Forestry, pursuing legislative changes to the law, and taking important reforms directly to Oregon voters in the form of ballot initiatives. 

We’re also working with residents in the Oregon Coast Range and groups like Beyond Toxics and Pacific Rivers to host film screenings, town halls, and community forums to educate and connect Oregonians impacted by damaging logging practices and weak laws. Find out more about some of these community efforts and hear from a diversity of voices rising up against these practices at Oregon Forest Voices.

Take Action! Sign the petition to seek logging reform in Oregon!

Legislative efforts

A strong coalition of Oregon legislators, working on behalf of rural residents and public environmental health interests, pursued legislation in the 2015 legislative session to increase public transparency and accountability around uses of aerial pesticide and herbicide spraying, and to better protect public and environmental health by establishing no-spray buffers around homes, schools and streams. Unfortunately SB 613 was shunted to a closed-door working group where it languished, while another committee produced a watered-down bill backed by the timber industry. [Learn more.]

Oregon Wild intends to pursue legislative avenues in coming legislative sessions that continue to make gains in reforming the OFPA.

Ballot Initiatives

Oregon citizens have the right to take important issues directly to the voters. After the legislature failed to act to limit aerial spraying in 2015, Oregon Wild and our partners decided to do just that, by filing three initiative proposals for potential inclusion on the 2016 ballot.

The citizen initiatives are aimed at protecting Oregon’s drinking water from aerial pesticide sprays and other logging practices that threaten public health and safety. All three initiatives would stop aerial pesticide sprays in any watershed that is a source of drinking water, and near any home or school. One would also limit clearcut logging on steep slopes susceptible to landslides; and the final proposal would require leaving 50 trees per acre in western Oregon, 15 in eastern Oregon – putting an end to the damaging practice of clearcut logging.

The initial required signatures have been submitted to the Secretary of State for verification, and next steps for the proposals are being evaluated. More info and text of IP 78, IP 79, and IP 80.

Photo of private land clearcut in the central Oregon Coast Range (Chandra LeGue)