Oregon’s loss of funding shows we’ve got work ahead of us

In Oregon, Steelhead Files by steelheaders

Loss of funding shows we’ve got work ahead of us 

By: Dean Finnerty

FullSizeRenderOregonians have known for years about the need to clean up our act with regard to water pollution standards along our favorite salmon and steelhead streams in western Oregon.


That reality hit home recently. After the Oregon Board of Forestry ignored its own science and refused to make significant changes to address water pollution, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) took action. This week, they informed the Governor’s office that the state will be the first in the country to lose more than $1.2 million in federal grant money.


Oregon’s coastal communities will feel the hit. These monies are important to agencies such as the Department of Environmental quality and to local economies. They’re used for projects such as dredging, river, stream and wetland restoration, storm water management and other efforts.

To the outsider, those may seem like meaningless cuts, but they’re not. Those projects are backed by people – people and jobs. Cutting funds means cutting jobs, cutting people


The funding cuts are required by a 1990 federal law, which is intended to direct the states to control water pollution to protect fish, wildlife, and public health not covered under the Clean Water Act.


Federal regulators had previously warned Oregon that better protections were needed to deal with logging practices on streams with inadequate buffers. Buffers help control runoff from logging roads, landslides, protect water quality and provide shade to keep water cool for fish in the height of summer.


The pollution in these streams comes not only comes from the chemicals entering the water from a variety of sources, such as agricultural practices, aerial spraying and industrial timber production, but it also includes unnaturally warm water from lack of shade provided by streamside trees.


NOAA has been working on this for quite some time and Oregon has refused to budge. Conservationists have continually asked the Feds to do something on behalf of ESA listed fish and this time they did.


The Oregon Department of Forestry conducted a study that found 120 foot streamside buffers would aid sandy wesin meeting the water quality standards that salmon, steelhead and bull trout needed. Ultimately, with intense pressure from the timber industry, the Oregon Board of Forestry chose to require only 80 foot buffers.



This is an increase of 60 feet in some streams and a move in the right direction for sure, but a lot of change is still needed in Oregon. Trout Unlimited staff and volunteers continue to remain engaged in these discussions and revised state forestry rules.

The leadership in Oregon state government has indicated that gaps in these areas will be addressed with voluntary efforts from the timber industry. Federal regulators don’t feel that those voluntary efforts will be sufficient to make the legally required changes to protect against water pollution on Oregon’s waterways.


In the end, the efforts of Oregonians to make changes to the management of our forests is failing. The feds and courts warned us. They told us what changes had to be made to protect our water quality, not only for endangered fish, but also for our own good. Money that was to be used to improve the situation is now off the table. More will be taken off the table in the coming years if Oregon continues to ignore the science. As Oregonians, it’s OUR responsibility to take care of this.