Six years ago, a landslide that began in a clear-cut slammed into a house in western Oregon, killing four people (HCN, 12/23/96: Rain and clearcuts make fatal brew). That tragedy prompted state officials to limit logging on steep slopes near homes and busy roads. Now, a coalition of Oregon environmental groups says salmon should be afforded similar protection. The groups are suing the state, claiming that logging regulations that allow clear-cuts on soggy, slide-prone slopes and require only 20-foot-wide buffers beside streams do little to prevent landslides in salmon habitat.
"It's really pitiful when you see these buffers," says Patti Goldman, an attorney with Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund, which is representing the groups. "Landslides can go through an incredible amount of forest, ruining salmon habitat."
Oregon forestry officials say they are already protecting salmon habitat on private lands. Later this year, they expect to adopt changes to logging rules that will likely include modest increases in buffer sizes. State regulators say they don't want to make the rules so strict that they drive small woodlot owners out of business - and open the door to development.
"If you make it unattractive for people to run their land as forest, people may have to contend with parking lots instead," says Rod Nichols, a spokesman with the state forestry department.
Environmentalists who filed the suit say the changes don't meet the requirements of the Endangered Species Act. A federal judge is scheduled to hear the case this fall.