Oregon Federal Court Ruling Raises Threat of EPA Regulation Of Private Forest Roads

Unless overturned by the Supreme Court or overridden by Congress, a Federal Appellate Court ruling in Oregon will classify forest roads on private lands as potential point sources of water pollution and thus subject to regulation and permit requirements under the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The potential is staggering for costly regulatory delays, requirements, and harassment not over just logging roads but construction and repairs needed by landowners for everyday management of their forests. The ruling, if sustained, would overturn EPA’s 35-year regulation under the Clean Water Act that treated forest roads as non-point pollution sources.  During that period, rainwater runoff from forest and logging has been regulated through state Best Management Practices (BMPs) under state laws and regulations.

Forestry leaders nation-wide have joined in assailing the court ruling and calling for corrective action.  Marshall Thomas, president of F&W Forestry Services, said: “Perhaps of most concern is the fact that the forestry community has done an outstanding job of self-regulating water quality practices, working on a voluntary basis with state and federal agencies on self-regulating quality practices, working with state and federal agencies and environmental groups.

“These voluntary efforts have been extremely effective.  Logging site surveys by various states show greater than 90 percent full compliance with BMPs across almost all operations,” Thomas writes in the Fall Edition of The F&W Forestry Report. “According to EPA’s own data, forest operations account for only 3 percent the total sediment contribution to streams and ranks llth among all contributing sources.  To put the forestry contribution in perspective, natural sources alone contribute about 11 percent of stream sediment loads,” Thomas said.

The Oregon ruling is headed for Supreme Court review.  Bi-partisan legislation has been introduced in Congress to overturn the ruling if it is upheld by the High Court.