Pollution control board rejects claim that heavy equipment will increase erosion
By Marcy Stamper
Logging of trees that burned in the Carlton Complex Fire can go forward this spring and summer, now that a state board has denied an appeal to halt the salvage sale in the lower Methow Valley.
The Pollution Control Hearings Board (PCHB) found on April 14 that the environmental groups that sought the stay had not demonstrated that their argument — that the logging would cause erosion, deposit sediment in streams, and harm water quality and fish — was likely to prevail in court.
Showing that a court would uphold the appeal is the standard in this type of case, according to attorney Wyatt Golding of the Washington Forest Law Center. Golding is representing appellants Kathleen (Maeyowa) Yockey, Conservation Northwest and the Kettle Range Conservation Group, who filed the request to halt the Carlton Fire Salvage FIT sale in February.
“We are disappointed in the result and are working with the clients to figure out our next step,” said Golding.
The appellants argued that trucks and heavy equipment would further damage slopes already rendered unstable by the intense heat of the fire and resulting loss of vegetation.
The PCHB determined that the state Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR’s) plans for the logging include adequate mitigations to protect roads and slopes. DNR had already amended the project to exclude slopes steeper than 60 percent.
Other provisions in DNR’s plan call for laying small trees across slopes to minimize erosion. Skid trails will be re-seeded and water bars will be dug to deflect run-off. Logging will not be allowed near wetlands or fish-bearing streams.
The PCHB acknowledged that the fire had increased the potential for erosion. “Although there is no dispute that soils in the area … are more erodible than they were before the fire, there is some dispute concerning just how susceptible the soils are to erosion,” wrote the board. But the board concluded that the state forest-practices rule “does not prohibit ground-based logging on erodible soils unless ‘sediment delivery is likely to disturb a wetland, stream, lake or pond.’”
State law permits the PCHB to consider economic as well as environmental factors. The PCHB said that the only alternative to ground-based logging would be to use helicopters, which they called prohibitively expensive.
The parties also differed about the likelihood that badly burned trees would survive and how many should be left in place.
The terms of the sale call for leaving two green trees and two dead trees per acre. Reforestation will occur through natural regrowth and planting of trees over the next three years, according to DNR’s plans.
The board concluded that the road improvements and erosion-reduction measures will decrease the risks to Yockey’s property, which was badly damaged by mudslides and flash floods last summer.
“In balancing the interests of all parties and the public … the Board concludes that while Appellants have established some potential for damage to their interests if this harvest goes forward, the Respondents have established some potential for damage if the harvest does not go forward,” wrote the PCHB.
Okanogan County intervened in the appeal on behalf of DNR, arguing that leaving the trees in place would attract insects and jeopardize forest health.
In all, 1,285 acres will be logged. The majority — 637 acres — is slated for the Texas Creek drainage, with smaller areas in the Benson Creek, Middle Methow River and Chiliwist Creek drainages. Loggers will repair 17 miles of road and construct of 429 feet of new roads.
The sale is expected to produce 6.8 million board-feet of timber. DNR and the two timber companies that successfully bid on the sale say the commercial value of the timber will decrease if it is not harvested by the end of July, the deadline for completing the logging.
The environmental groups can appeal the PCHB’s decision to Thurston County Superior Court, asking that court to impose a stay, said Golding.
The appellants also remain open to working with DNR to find common ground, he said.