Weyerhaeuser, DNR reach deal on two drainages

Weyerhaeuser Co. and the state Department of Natural Resources have agreed to increase protections in two drainages of the upper Chehalis River valley ravaged by landslides during a December 2007 storm.

Hundreds of landslides in the Stillman Creek and upper Chehalis River watersheds sent floodwaters, mud and woody debris into homes and farmland in the Chehalis River valley, causing millions of dollars of damage and knocking down some 140,000 truckloads of timber.

A subsequent study by Weyerhaeuser concluded that extreme rainfall was the primary cause of the damage. Conservation groups and others argue that too much timber harvesting on steep slopes contributed to the ensuing disaster.

The watershed analyses used by the two parties to regulate forest logging practices in the two drainages were developed in 1994, five years before a state Forests and Fish law was approved that requires more site- specific assessment of a logging proposal.

Weyerhaeuser and DNR agreed to review the company’s watershed plans in the two Chehalis basin drainages, using Forest and Fish regulations in the meantime.

“We’re agreeing to be a little more conservative in these watersheds,” said Kevin Godbout, director of external and regulatory affairs for Weyerhaeuser.

The roughly 5 percent of the public and private timberland covered by watershed analyses in Western Washington are exempt from some of the environmental review required by Forests and Fish, raising questions about how good of a job the 52 watershed analyses approved statewide by DNR do to identify and guard against logging-induced landslides.

“That is the concern,” said Heath Packard, director of legislative and external affairs for DNR.

Further compounding potential problems with watershed analyses is the fact that DNR has fallen behind on a requirement in Forests and Fish to consistently review and update them when necessary, Packard said.

Packard said DNR is committed to getting back on track with those reviews.

“We’re trying to help DNR kick-start that issue,” Godbout said.

“I hope other forestland owners will follow the lead of Weyerhaeuser and opt to have their own watershed analyses reviewed and provide the interim landslide protections while the analysis is under review,” state Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark said.

John Dodge: 360-754-5444