- Associated Press - Monday, May 12, 2014

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) - An environmental attorney on Monday asked Washington state to adopt an emergency rule to temporarily ban logging around landslide-prone areas in the wake of the deadly Oso disaster.

Testifying at a meeting called by the Forest Practices Board, Peter Goldman of the Washington Forest Law Center said new guidelines for proposed timber harvests near landslide hazard areas “are welcome steps in the right direction, but they’re hardly enough.”

Under the requirements issued Friday by Commissioner of Public Lands Peter Goldmark, applicants who want a harvest permit will need to provide a detailed site review by a qualified geologist if the state determines that logging near unstable slopes could affect public safety.

But Goldman said the new requirements do not identify the locations of deep-seated landslides or how logging can be conducted safely in those areas.

“We need enforceable rules and guidelines backed by the force of law, not just promises by DNR to take a closer look,” he said of the Department of Natural Resources, which has a presence on the Forest Practices Board.

Public testimony before the board came toward the end of an all-day hearing that included an overview of the March 22 slide that raced across the North Fork of the Stillaguamish River and buried dozens of homes in Oso, the riverfront community about 55 miles northeast of Seattle. Forty-one people died, and two are still missing.

Deborah Durnell, whose husband, Tom, was killed in the slide, asked the board to do all it could to prevent future landslides.

“The deaths in Oso weren’t just statistics to me,” she said. “We owe every person who died to do all in our power to make sure that logging regulations are adequate and that they are enforced.”

She said she hopes the disaster motivates the state to ramp up its efforts to identify risks, pass regulations, and notify residents of the hazards to ensure the public is protected.

The board planned to resume its meeting Tuesday, but it’s uncertain what, if any, actions might be taken.

Aaron Everett, chairman of the Forest Practices Board, said the meeting is meant to “review and take stock of our scientific knowledge of landslide hazards.”

“We do it against the context of an awful tragedy,” he said. “It makes our work that much more important.”

Officials throughout the day heard about the history of landslides in the state, previous responses to the disasters and forest practices in place now.

The hillside that collapsed above Oso was roughly 600 feet high and scattered debris nearly a mile from the base of the hill.

Jonathan Godt, a scientist with the U.S. Geological Survey, said Monday that while rains likely contributed to the slide, a definitive cause is “a question that may not be answerable in a satisfactory way.”