Streamside Buffers Threatened

BLM seeks to double riparian logging levels

Each month when you pay your electricity bill a generous portion of your payment is spent to restore salmon in the Northwest. In fact, when you write that check, you’re contributing to the largest fish and wildlife conservation effort in our nation’s history.

Since 1980, Pacific Northwest electricity consumers have paid more than $14 billion for fish and wildlife conservation. That’s right — billion. Under the 1980 Northwest Power Act, one-quarter of your monthly cost to buy Bonneville Power Administration electricity pays to restore streams, repair culverts that block fish migration, and other vital salmon conservation measures.

The scope of this effort testifies to the great value we place on protecting and restoring salmon. These dollars have allowed fish and wildlife managers to bring these fish back from the brink of extinction.

Today your personal investment in salmon restoration is being threatened by a single government agency — the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. The BLM wants to double logging levels next to streams across its 2.5 million western Oregon acres.

If they get their way, BLM bureaucrats (whose salaries are paid, in part, by logging revenue) threaten to squander the billions of dollars that we have spent over the past 35 years to protect fish.

Let me share some details:

• Currently, the 1994 Northwest Forest Plan protects rivers and streams on BLM and national forest land from logging and other harmful actions. That plan calls for buffers along salmon streams that scientists say are the bare minimum necessary for salmon recovery.

• The BLM wants to excuse itself from the Northwest Forest Plan so it can increase logging to cover its bureaucrats’ salaries. BLM has released a new draft plan that proposes slashing streamside buffers by more than half.

So what’s going on here? Have the needs of salmon changed since the Northwest Forest Plan was adopted? Not a bit. If anything, the science showing the importance of ample buffers next to salmon streams is more settled than it was in 1994. Those buffers help keep streams cool. The buffers are the source of logs in rivers that young salmon need to survive. The streamside forest pumps nutrients into the water, keeping rivers healthy and productive.

Perhaps the salmon have recovered so that they no longer need stream buffer protection? I wish that were so. We have made a lot of progress, thanks to your investment. Salmon numbers have rebounded in many rivers. But salmon species in western Oregon are still threatened with extinction. Nor will the need for stream protection go away when salmon are restored. Keeping salmon runs healthy will require that your investment be protected in perpetuity.

The BLM’s proposal is so radical that it’s drawing biting criticism from other federal agencies. The National Marine Fisheries Service described the BLM’s proposed plan as “extraordinary.” In fact, the fisheries service said, the BLM claims that the scientists had it all wrong when they created those buffers.

“It is an axiom of science,” the service wrote in official comments to the BLM plan, “that extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof, yet the (BLM’s plan) provides little data or even logical cohesion in support of this extraordinary shift in fundamental scientific assumptions.”

You’ve been paying — month after month, year after year — to help bring salmon back from the brink. I’m guessing most of you are OK with that; there’s no greater symbol of this magnificent place than healthy, wild salmon.

My question to you is simple: Are you going to let one rogue federal agency ruin all the good work that you’ve paid for?

Look at your last utility bill. If you’re an EWEB customer, 15 percent of your power cost is spent on salmon restoration (EWEB buys 60 percent of its power from BPA, so 60 percent of 25 percent = 15 percent). Springfield Utility Board customers have 25 percent of their power cost invested in fish conservation because SUB buys all of its power from BPA.

Then call Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley and Rep. Peter DeFazio. Tell them you are appalled that BLM’s bureaucrats want to jeopardize your personal investment in salmon restoration. — Andy Stahl