Guest Column
It’s time for new forestry laws

Tom Bender

Forty-five people were poisoned in 2013 by multiple illegal sprayings of their homes — not forest lands — with aerial forestry herbicides in Curry County.

One is dead, one in intensive treatment, the rest with serious ongoing health issues. It took seven months to get any Oregon government agency to even release what poisons they were sprayed with. And that list turned out to have been falsified. There’s something very wrong here.

One man told us he has buried 12 deer, two sheep, and several dogs that died around his house, from a “wasting disease.” They could eat all they wanted, but couldn’t absorb the food, shrank to skin and bones and died. He sighed, then added, “And I have the same wasting disease. I’ve lost 45 pounds, can’t work, and need a cane just to get down our stairs.”

A year later, no fines collected, no financial assistance for medical costs or inability to work, and local doctors refusing to treat them. And Oregon’s “Right to Farm and Forest” law deprives Oregonians of our constitutional right to any legal action against timber companies in such situations. This was not just one single event. Other spraying issues have occurred at Triangle Lake, above the city of Wheeler, and poisoning of waterways and public water supplies in many locations. It’s time for change.

Oregon allows use of dangerous herbicides banned elsewhere. It has eliminated even minimal spray setbacks from homes and schools. And there is no evidence that routine use of aerial forestry herbicide spraying is even needed. It actually reduces tree growth. Numerous, more affordable alternatives exist. Simply changing rotation length from the current 40 years to 300 years reduces herbicide “need” as well as other significant costs of timber harvesting by 85 percent. It’s time for change.

We know now also that there is no minimum safe level of herbicide use — extremely low levels cause neurological damage that can even affect future generations. Oregon allows the use of herbicide mixes whose cross-impacts have never been tested. National forests have banned aerial herbicides because of high numbers of miscarriages in surrounding areas. But not Oregon. It’s time for change.

Oregon ignores that the short harvest-rotations it permits, and the routine use of herbicides it allows, cut wood production in half, economic benefit of forests by 90 percent, causes siltation of streams and reduced salmon runs, and creates significant landslide hazards to surrounding communities. It allows slash-burning that is now virtually banned elsewhere, permitting its mutagenic and carcinogenic smoke to engulf our communities and the air we breathe. It’s time for change.

Timber companies have no problem making a profit in other states. They just rake in big extra profit from Oregon’s outdated laws. Oregon has eliminated most harvest taxes — Washington’s equivalent would provide $40 million a year to local affected counties. The past employment and income benefits from logging have dwindled to near zero. Automation and wage reductions in forestry industry have reduced timber benefits to less than 1 percent of Oregon gross domestic product. Tourism has replaced forestry in contribution to economics and employment — outdoor recreation providing five times the jobs as the timber industry. Even global warming impacts say it’s time for change — carbon sequestering value alone, from letting trees grow, amounts to 20 times the income gained from logging.

It’s time for major reform in Oregon forestry regulations. Now. Proposed legislative action to “notify people of spraying” is totally inadequate. It merely shifts our attention away from the enormousness and seriousness of the issues. The magnitude and clarity of new science regarding these issues is already bringing strong class-action risk to all of our jurisdictions and agencies if we fail to act. And the benefit to all Oregon of making major improvements in management of our forests is huge.

Tom Bender of Sustainable Architecture and Economics in Nehalem is one of the originators of sustainable economics that shows more effective ways of doing what we do.

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