Conservation Northwest: Logging will cause erosion, mudslides

By Marcy Stamper

An environmental organization has appealed the state’s plans to log 1,200 acres of timber that burned in summer 2015 in the Loup Loup watershed because they say that clearing forests with heavy machinery — particularly after a fire — poses serious risks of erosion.

“Research has shown this type of logging dramatically boosts soil erosion, crushes forest regrowth and undermines forest recovery,” said Conservation Northwest in a statement about the complaint, which was filed in Okanogan County Superior Court on Feb. 10.

The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) proposed the West Fork Fire Salvage Timber sale in December. The area is in the Loup Loup Creek watershed, which feeds into the Okanogan River and provides spawning habitat for endangered steelhead trout, according to the complaint.

In the complaint, Conservation Northwest points to floods and erosion that occurred after salvage logging near Texas Creek last year. Logging burned areas causes more environmental damage than taking timber from other areas because there are no grasses, brush or living trees to anchor the soil, according to the organization.

“We’ve learned that logging burned forests makes a bad situation much worse,” said Dave Werntz, science and conservation director for Conservation Northwest.

Scientists who studied the effects of the 2015 wildfire determined that soils in the West Fork area were badly damaged, creating a “very high” risk of erosion and debris flows, said Conservation Northwest.

Erosion concerns

Logging would be done by bulldozers and skidders to drag trees. “The use of heavy logging machinery churns up soil and deep layers of fine sediment and ash created by the fire, elevating erosion from hillsides into waterways,” says the complaint.

Conservation Northwest has raised concerns about whether salvage logging contributed to erosion and mudslides on Texas Creek, which burned in 2014. After a rainstorm in May 2015, mud and debris from upper Texas Creek traveled 4 miles downstream to Carlton, damaging homes, culverts and the county road.

Conservation Northwest had challenged the Texas Creek logging, but a state board declined to halt the operation, saying the group had not demonstrated that its argument — that the logging would cause erosion, deposit sediment in streams, and harm water quality and fish — was likely to prevail in court.

The Texas Creek case was a resolved with a settlement that addressed some of the appellants’ concerns by restricting logging near streams and scattering slash throughout the forest to minimize erosion. The settlement was signed just weeks before the Texas Creek mudslide.

After the Texas Creek flood, scientists from Conservation Northwest inspected the area and claimed that a combination of dense, unhealthy forests and subsequent salvage logging had contributed to the erosion.

The West Fork salvage sale, on the east side of the Loup Loup summit, will harvest 7.2 million board feet and includes almost 18 miles of road maintenance, according to DNR. It is one of five sales initially proposed by DNR to salvage timber burned in the Okanogan Complex Fire. Earlier this month, DNR decided not to pursue one timber sale adjacent to the West Fork salvage area.

Conservation Northwest was particularly concerned about cumulative impacts from the West Fork sale because the area to be logged is so large and there are other private and state salvage operations in the Loup Loup watershed, said Werntz. The salvage timber sales proposed by DNR in eastern and northern Okanogan County are both under 400 acres.