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Water Settlement Would Affect Logging

by Eric Barker
Lewiston Tribune, June 11, 2004

State would implement protective rules
under proposed Snake River Basin agreement

The proposed settlement of the Nez Perce Tribe's water claims in the Snake River Basin could affect some logging in the Salmon and Clearwater basins.

As part of the proposed settlement, the state has agreed to implement protective logging rules in both basins that go beyond the requirements of the Idaho Forest Practices Act. The new techniques would be required on state land and voluntary on private land.

The logging rules are designed to protect water quality and salmon and steelhead habitat. State and private landowners who agree to implement the practices would be rewarded by being insulated from lawsuits claiming logging harms threatened and endangered salmon.

"If we can do something that helps insure or helps reduce the risk of a lawsuit or a successful lawsuit, I think that is just smart business," said Winston Wiggins, director of the Idaho Department of Lands at Boise.

Details of the new requirements are still being worked out. But as outlined in the proposed settlement, loggers would no longer be able to harvest trees within 25 feet of streams with fish. There would also be a buffer zone of 50 feet on either side of the no-harvest zone. Logging could occur within the buffer zone, but loggers would be required to leave at least 88 trees per acre with an eight-inch diameter or larger.

Streams that do not have fish in them, known as class II streams, but drain into fish bearing streams would also be subject to a buffer zone requirement. Loggers would have to leave at least 35 trees per acre within 50 feet of each side of those streams.

The measures also include requirements for road management. They recommend things like avoiding slopes of 60 degrees or greater and unstable soil. They also recommend that loggers not locate roads in riparian areas and when roads do cross steams, the measures say large culverts are to be used.

The tribe has agreed to trade its claims to most of the water in the basin for more than $90 million, land, salmon friendly river flows and protections for salmon and steelhead. The proposed logging rules are part of that agreement.

Wiggins said if the new measures are adopted, loggers won't see much change.

"I don't see that we would be reducing harvest levels based on this. It will just mean different harvest approaches."

James Riley of the Intermountain Forest Association at Coeur d' Alene explained loggers might have to wait longer to take some trees on a given piece of land. For example, he said loggers might have to leave more trees than they normally would within buffer zones. But he said once younger trees in the buffer zones reach the required size of eight inches, loggers could go back and harvest some of the trees they left.

"It might require you to harvest fewer trees per acre but in the future you would be able to come back and get the ones you left."

Both Riley and Wiggins noted the 25-foot no harvest zone is new and that it would lead to some harvest reductions.

"Even considering that I think the impact is less dramatic than some people might think," said Wiggins.

Since the practices would be voluntary on private land it would not affect everybody. But Wiggins said many landowners are already meeting the proposed standards.

"The Idaho Forest Practices Act only describes the minimum standard. My experience is the vast majority of landowners far exceed the minimum when they work on their land."

Lawsuits over the effect of logging on salmon and steelhead habitat are common on federal land. But such challenges are infrequent to nonexistent on state and private land.

The Endangered Species Act directs federal land managers to avoid anything that will harm the species it is trying to protect. Environmental groups frequently sue when they believe actions, such as timber sales, will harm protected species. But the act's hammer weakens when it reaches across federal boundaries and onto state and federal land.

Even though the state land managers log more intensively than federal land managers do, environmental groups have filed only a handful of 60-day notices of intent to sue over the effects of state logging. Winston said none of them have advanced to the point of a lawsuit.

There has been no Endangered Species Act based lawsuits challenging logging on private land in Idaho. Even so some loggers and landowners say the insulation from future lawsuits is welcome.

"For those of us who purchase timber from state lands this offers a level of certainty that we look favorably upon," said Mark Benson, spokesman for Potlatch Corp. at Lewiston.

Besides harvesting trees on its own land, Potlatch is one of the largest purchasers of state timber sales. Benson said the company will study the effect of implementing the proposed measures on its land. He noted the company's forest practices are certified as environmentally sound by two third-party groups.

The state and private landowners who agree to the practices can receive money to repair salmon and steelhead habitat. Riley said the insulation from lawsuits is important part of that. Some landowners fear getting caught in a catch-22 situation if they improve endangered species habitat on their land.

Riley said they figure if they fix things such as undersized culverts, and salmon and steelhead begin spawning on their land, they might be stopped from logging the same land.

"Absent this agreement more fish is more opportunity to sue," he said. "If we do this right we have removed that disincentive."

Eric Barker
Water Settlement Would Affect Logging
Lewiston Tribune, June 11, 2004

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