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Group hopes to change forest rules

Recent clearings prompt founding of Log Smarter

Northeast Washington’s arid forests aren’t suited to large clear-cuts or aerial spraying of herbicides, says a citizens group that wants to change the state’s forest practices rules.

The group, which calls itself Log Smarter, formed after Port-land-based Forest Capital Partners bought 265,000 acres in Stevens, Ferry and Pend Oreille counties. Over the past five years, bare spots have appeared on hillsides as the company cleared stands of trees and killed underbrush with herbicides.

Forest Capital officials say they’re addressing diseased stands and other problems through intensive management. But critics say the resulting landscape looks like a strip mine. The spraying takes out huckleberries and other brush that supports moose, deer and songbird populations.

“We have a sense of urgency; it’s happening so fast,” said Mike Slater, a Stevens County resident and Log Smarter co-chairman. “At the rate they’re spraying and clear-cutting, it will be too late to do anything in a few years.”

Forest practice rules allow clear-cuts of up to 240 acres and herbicide application on private land. Slater said the Forest Practices Board should examine whether the logging methods – more common in wetter, coastal regions – are appropriate for the dry, slow-growing forests east of the Cascades.

The group is gathering signatures for a petition that it plans to present to the Forest Practices Board at its May 11 meeting in Olympia.

Brian Kernohan, Forest Capital’s policy director, said critics are losing sight of scale. As part of its timber harvest, the company clear-cuts about 2 percent of its Northeast Washington acreage each year and sprays 1.5 percent.

The practices will reinvigorate forestlands the company purchased from Boise Cascade in 2005, Kernohan said. Boise Cascade had moved away from clear-cutting. As a result, many tree stands were plagued by disease and dominated by low-value white fir, he said. As Forest Capital replants its cutover lands, herbicides help new tree seedlings by removing competing brush, he said.

“In 50 years, we’ll have a much healthier forest,” Kernohan said. “We’re analyzing the stand today, looking at how we can create a healthy, viable, valuable forest for the future.”

But Kernohan said Forest Capital would support a scientific review of Washington’s forest practice rules. “We’re not opposed to adaptive management,” he said.

The rules strive to balance profits and environmental protections, said Marc Engel, an assistant division manager at the state Department of Natural Resources.

“While providing for a viable timber industry, we want to make sure that we’re protecting public resources” – such as soil productivity and water quality, Engel said.

The rules are uniform throughout most of the state, though the size of stream buffers varies by region.

Changing the rules can’t be done on a whim, Engel added. The rules must be altered by a court order, an act of the state Legislature or through adaptive management, which is a science-based review of the regulations.

Log Smarter hopes to gather 600 signatures from local residents to present at the May meeting. Bob Hosking, a retired forester, is among those who signed the petition. His family owns 21 acres of recreation property adjacent to Forest Capital land in Ferry County.

“It’s an area we’ve hunted for 30 years,” Hosking said. “One day, my son came home and said ‘Dad, it looks like someone dropped an atom bomb up there.’ ”

The deer were gone, Hosking said. So were the trees and the underbrush.

Hosking worked for the Forest Service and later consulted for private landowners in Eastern Washington. He said he didn’t prescribe clear-cuts because the sites are too dry.

“Eighteen inches is the average annual precipitation for Republic,” he said. “The seedlings don’t get the roots down quick enough to get the moisture, especially when you strip the shade off.”

But the spraying concerns him even more than the clear-cuts, Hosking said.

“The herbicides kill everything to clear dirt. If there’s any ponderosa pine kicking around, it will kill them, too,” he said.

Forest Capital’s Kernohan said many sites are too brushy to regenerate trees without killing the underbrush. In 20 years, those bare spots will be vibrant stands of trees, he said.

“They proclaim it’s a community dependent on its forest resources,” he said of critics. “We’re creating a working forest that will add value to the future economy.”

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