SEATTLE, Wash. — Timber companies that want to harvest near potentially dangerous landslide areas will now have to conduct geologic reviews before getting a logging permit from the state, officials said Friday.
Under the new standards announced by Commissioner of Public Lands Peter Goldmark, the state will require a geotechnical report when there’s a potential risk to public safety — even if the harvest area itself doesn’t include unstable territory.
“This added scrutiny provides more information to help properly identify potential hazards and avoid impacts,” Goldmark said in a statement.
The Department of Natural Resources (DNR), which Goldmark has led since 2009, approved logging in 2004 above the hill near Oso that collapsed in March.
The Seattle Times reported in the wake of the mudslide that state officials had been relying on an outdated map to determine where loggers could harvest trees above the slide hill. A clear-cut can increase groundwater flows and destabilize landslide-prone slopes.
Had state officials utilized a newer map at the landslide hill, regulators likely would have restricted most of the 7.5 acres that were clear-cut in 2004.
The Times also reported that the harvest by logging company Grandy Lake appears to have strayed into the restricted boundaries the state was using at the time.
Goldmark’s office said officials are still investigating the March landslide to determine if logging had any contributing role.
State rules have required timber companies to conduct geotechnical reports when harvesting on potentially unstable slopes. Under the new procedures, DNR will examine sites to determine whether there are potential public-safety risks due to unstable slopes outside of a harvest area.
DNR said sites will be analyzed on a case-by-case basis, and the state would require the geotechnical reports if it feels public safety could be an issue.
Peter Goldman, a former Goldmark supporter now critical of the commissioner’s work on landslides, said he’s glad the agency is starting to take landslides seriously but doesn’t think it’s nearly enough.
Goldman, an environmental lawyer, would like to see a moratorium on logging around slide-prone hills so the state can properly identify deep-seated landslide areas like the one that collapsed in Snohomish County. He wants the state to then develop enforceable standards identifying where logging can occur.
The geotechnical reports that Goldmark will now require won’t fully address the problem of logging near landslides because they will rely on the opinion of one person and not strict guidelines enacted by the state, Goldman said.
“It’s a lot of flag-waving, but unfortunately it’s just kind of meaningless,” Goldman said.
DNR maintains a landslide inventory that has flagged more than 45,000 distinct areas in Washington state, but the state acknowledges that some information may be missing from the map and other pieces may be inaccurate. The process of examining a potential landslide area on the ground can be time-consuming and costly.
Even though the Snohomish County landslide had been extensively researched by scientists and was long recognized as a deep-seated landslide, the DNR system didn’t label it as such. The inventory shows 9,571 separate areas listed as some type of deep-seated landslide, although many of those are uncertain or dormant.
On Monday, the state Forest Practices Board is scheduled to hold a special meeting to examine the latest science on the Snohomish County landslide and state regulations that protect public safety.