OLYMPIA – The agency that manages state forest lands will ask if it’s legal to declare a moratorium on timber harvests near landslide areas in an effort to prevent tragedies like the March 22 slide that killed more than 40 people.
The Forest Practices Board, which sets rules for harvesting timber, voted unanimously Tuesday to emphasize public safety as it reviews timber rules for areas near slides and locations where water is absorbed into the ground and recharges aquifers.
The board was urged to impose such a moratorium Monday in the wake of the Oso mudslide that killed 41 and left two people missing. Snohomish County Commissioner Dave Sommers, a member of the board, said that county – which is where Oso is located – is looking at a rule that would not allow timber harvests in an aquifer recharge zone. The board may not have the legal authority to declare a moratorium, Chairman Aaron Everett said Tuesday. Public Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark, who leads the Natural Resources Department, will ask for an opinion on that point from the state attorney general’s office. Goldmark has agreed to seek the opinion because the board doesn’t have the authority to ask for it, Everett said. The Forest Practices Board is an arm of the Natural Resources Department.
In the meantime, the Natural Resources Department will study ways to improve the state’s ability to identify glacial landslides and groundwater recharge zones and recommend ways to close the gaps in that information. The state has only a small fraction of those landslide areas identified with laser-assisted scanning known as LIDAR, although many private landowners have conducted scans on their property.
The board said department staff should rearrange priorities to devote more resources to locating slides and it may recommend the Legislature spend more money on LIDAR and geologists to follow up the mapping with visits to the sites.
An area above the Oso slide was logged in 2005, but experts told the board Monday it’s not possible to say if that caused or contributed to the slide. Determining that could take several years, a spokesman for the U.S. Geological Survey said.
“The scientific questions are going to take a long time to answer … if they can be answered at all,” Everett said.