Oregon Environmental Groups Capitulate: Allows Agencies and Big Timber Corporations To Avoid Mitigating the Impacts of Clearcut Logging and Aerial Poison Spray

Aerial Spraying: Flying Blind

By Roy Keene and Samantha Chirillo

Posted Mar 12, 2020 at 12:01 AMUpdated Mar 12, 2020 at 9:53 AM


In Oregon, especially in heavily logged counties like Lane County, how much sedimentation and poison from large-scale clearcutting and aerial spraying contaminates our watersheds?

Although the timber industry assures us that these widespread practices have no adverse effect on our streams and rivers, we really don’t know. With little, if any, valid monitoring data, we are flying blind.

Twenty years ago, Oregon Department of Forestry published an aerial pesticide application monitoring report compiled from sampling 26 carefully orchestrated pesticide operations with preselected industrial participants. Though it admitted peak pesticide concentrations were generated by rain runoff, only three applications were measured after rain, a mere 0.16% of that year’s 1,896 pesticide operations!

ODFs monitoring was based on such a tiny sample size and so clearly biased that the results have no scientific significance. In Lane County, typically the state’s largest timber harvest, not a single aerial pesticide application was sampled.

In spite of more chemical use to compensate for increasing tree plantation moisture stress and accompanying insect and pathogen spread, ODF has monitored no spray applications since 1999.

In 2015, a report by Oregon’s Department of Environmental Quality and Health Authority connected industrial forest road construction, clearcutting and pesticide spraying with increased pollution in drinking water that requires toxic chemicals to treat. This revealing work was, according to Oregon Public Broadcast, quashed by the timber industry, their politicians and ODF.

OPB said, “Forestry officials suggested DEQ remove language about the connection between timber harvests and landslides or sediment in streams ... so that it didn’t suggest the state’s forestry laws were too weak to protect clean water.”

They noted that, “The fate of that report offers a glimpse at what happens when a state environmental agency’s work runs afoul of a politically influential industry.”

This industry is, according to OPB, “The single largest owner of land in coastal drinking watersheds,100 percent of some source areas.”

Some of ODF’s original pesticide monitoring “volunteers” are now participating in Gov. Kate Brown’s forest practices reform compromise with selected environmental groups. This compromise seeks to resolve potentially harmful industrial logging practices while stymieing voter-driven reform initiatives. Within the non-binding Memorandum of Understanding between environmentalists and the timber industry, there’s no call for any watershed monitoring data or to take DEQ’s 2015 report off the shelf and follow its science. How fair will a compromise be over aerial spraying or logging-caused landslides without any guiding data? What about the ignored − but documented − records of humans and animals who have been harmed by aerial spraying or logging-caused landslides and flooding?

For the volunteers who passed Lincoln County’s aerial spray ban and collected enough signatures to put the legally stalled Lane County aerial spray ban on the ballot, this latest environmental compromise is a sell out, not a victory. The win of an aerial-spray ban at the ballot box in culturally diverse Lincoln County − even when outspent 20 to one − showed the willingness of Oregonians to approve an outright ban on aerial poisoning. For over two years, helicopters didn’t spray poisons in Lincoln County, yet clearcutting and replanting continued successfully.

Ironically, the environmental groups involved in this politically controlled compromise didn’t sign onto Lincoln County’s spray ban. They continue to disregard the democratic fairness of letting all Oregonians have a say on such critical logging reform. Lincoln County’s ban on aerial spraying was not, however, disregarded by the timber industry, who sought a compromise process it can control.

Considering industry’s clout, the lack of meaningful data and the “go-along-to-get-along” disposition of the carefully vetted environmental groups, this compromise isn’t likely to produce any significant logging reforms. Sadder yet, it will allow the aerial spraying of poisons to continue, a war zone specter that has no place in our watersheds.

Roy Keene, a forester, wrote the voters pamphlet argument in favor of Lincoln County’s aerial spray ban. Samantha Chirillo, with a master’s degree in biology from the University of Oregon, has published research at The Mayo Clinic.

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