« Return to this article

Know the West

Loggers sued for fatal landslide

  When a 10-year-old clearcut let loose a torrent of mud and debris last November, killing four people and obliterating a house in Douglas County, Ore., some said logging caused the tragedy (HCN, 12/23/96). Now the victims' families are taking that claim to court with an $11.3 million lawsuit against the two companies that owned and logged the steep canyon walls above the homes.

Logging contractor Don Whitaker Logging Inc. and landowner Champion International Corp. would not comment on the case. But Douglas County district forester Steve Truesdell suggests the fatal landslide was a natural event triggered by record rainfall last year.

"Those people that died, I'm sorry for them," Truesdell says. "They were just totally stupid to put their house at the bottom of a draw."

Others blame current logging practices. "We have studied this to death," says Mark Hubbard of the Oregon Natural Resources Council. "We know for sure that logging and road-building on steep slopes increases the risk of landslides."

Oregon's state board of forestry has asked loggers to voluntarily avoid hillsides above homes for the next two years, while a special panel defines high-risk slide areas and discusses logging techniques.

Hubbard is not encouraged. "What we need is a true mandatory moratorium" on steep-slope logging, he says. "What we have is a promise to study the issues some more. That isn't going to save any lives."

* Danielle Desruisseaux