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Preliminary Results of Washington Steep-Slope Logging Study

Austin Jenkins

Scientists are wrapping up a year–long study into logging on steep slopes in southwest Washington state. Preliminary results reveal that even moderate slopes slid during a major rainstorm in December 2007.


The storm dumped up to 12 inches of rain in some parts of rural southwest Washington, triggering nearly 2,000 landslides. The Seattle Times shot an iconic photo of one of the major slide events on a hillside that had been clear cut. Now scientists are providing an early look at a study to find out why those slopes slid. Environmentalist Peter Goldman, reacting to the study, says one of the most surprising findings is that slopes the state doesn't consider to be steep gave way.

Goldman: "Forty–one percent of the landslides initiated in places that aren't covered by the rules right now. In other words the rules don't recognize those slopes as serious."

Goldman says the state may have to redefine what constitutes a slide–prone slope. But Cindy Mitchell with the Washington Forest Protection Association, an industry group, has a different view. She says the historic nature of the storm, not lax state regulations, was the key culprit.

Mitchell: "They also talked about the heavy level of rainfall being a very big factor. I think the models likely work up to a certain point, but beyond that, all bets are off."

The study still needs to completed and peer reviewed. When finished it will be presented to the state Forest Practices Board; that could take until sometime next year. This controversy over steep–slope logging was a factor in the defeat last November of Republican Lands Commissioner Doug Sutherland. I'm Austin Jenkins in Olympia.

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