DNR Promises Tighter Controls On Logging Near Landslide Zones

May 9, 2014

Washington State officials announced new restrictions on logging near landslide zones Friday afternoon.

Washington Department of Natural Resources image shows 2004 clear-cut (near dotted purple line) extending into no-logging zone (marked with yellow line) at site of the March 22, 2014, Oso landslide.
Washington Department of Natural Resources image shows 2004 clear-cut (near dotted purple line) extending into no-logging zone (marked with yellow line) at site of the March 22, 2014, Oso landslide.
Credit Washington Department of Natural Resources

The change in policy comes six weeks after a landslide near the town of Oso killed at least 41 people.

The Washington Department of Natural Resources will require a detailed geological study before approving logging on any unstable slopes where a landslide could harm public safety.

"This added scrutiny provides more information to help properly identify potential hazards and avoid impacts,” Public Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark said in a Friday afternoon press release.

Goldmark said his agency is still studying whether a 10-year-old clear-cut at the top of the Oso landslide played any role in that hillside's collapse.

By removing large trees that soak up moisture, clear-cutting can let more groundwater percolate deep underground, where it can lubricate the unstable glacial soils of deep-seated landslide zones.

The Washington Forest Law Center welcomed Goldmark's announcement. But the environmental group said the government lacks standards for defining deep-seated landslide zones or other geological hazards.

"His promises to do more intensive screening for high hazard areas mean nothing unless they are accompanied by rule[s] clearly setting forth where and what these areas are," said Washington Forest Law Center director Peter Goldman in an email.

No geotechnical studies were done for the 2004 clear-cut straddling the edge of the Oso landslide zone.

In 2004, before Goldmark was elected lands commissioner, the Department of Natural Resources relied on outdated scientific information that indicated the proposed clear-cut above Oso was outside the zone where logging might help trigger a landslide.

The state's 13-member Forest Practices Board is holding a special meeting on Monday focused on the science of the Oso landslide and on the Department of Natural Resources' regulations aimed at avoiding triggering landslides.