Cut trees cause clear-cut controvery

by: VERN UYETAKE The clear-cutting of a forest near the Shadow Wood neighborhood in the Stafford area was entirely legal according to state agency representatives at a meeting with concerned neighbors last week. Much of the land was once a Christmas tree farm.

It wasn't what most wanted to hear.

State agency representatives last week told residents of Shadow Wood that the clear-cutting of a forest abutting their neighborhood was entirely legal, and the only way to prevent similar situations in the future requires changing state law.

'We do not have the authority to stop them from cutting their trees,' said Mike Haasken, a forester who works in Clackamas County for the Oregon Department of Forestry. 'We can only enforce what we're given authority by the Legislature to do.'

About 75 people gathered at Rosemont Ridge Middle School for the discussion, which stemmed from last fall's logging of about 70 acres of land along Johnson Road in the unincorporated area of Stafford. Not all of the audience members live directly next to the clear-cuts, but most live in Stafford, the rural buffer between Lake Oswego, Tualatin and West Linn. All were concerned about additional logging behind Shadow Wood and throughout the surrounding area.

Though much of the clear-cut land was once a Christmas tree farm, an operation typically under the authority of the Department of Agriculture, many of those trees were more than 12 years old, a characteristic putting them under Oregon Department of Forestry rules instead.

Those rules, part of the state's forest practices act, were designed without much consideration of the problems that could emerge where urban development touches the forest's fringe.

'It really fails a little bit, to be honest, when you put the forest next to a residential area,' Haasken said of the law. 'There are a lot of shortcomings with it.'

The cleared Johnson Road tracts belong to David Marks, who has advocated for higher-density housing and business development in the area; Johnson Road Investors LLC, managed by local developer Herb Koss; and Don Schaeffer, who recently told a neighbor he plans to replant trees because of residents' concerns. None of the three attended the meeting.

Christine Roth of Clackamas County arranged the event after hearing from Shadow Wood resident Judy Large, who contacted more than a dozen agencies looking for information after logging began next to her backyard.

With each call, Large found herself punted to another agency seemingly lacking jurisdiction to answer questions about the logging, debris burning and potential wildlife impacts.

Before, the neighborhood was home to owls, multiple species of frogs, turtles and salamanders, herons, hummingbirds and robins, among other species.

'They're gone,' Large said. 'It's so frustrating when we don't know who in the world to call.'

In addition to the state's forestry and agriculture departments, speakers on last week's discussion panel represented the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, Water Environment Services and the county's planning division.

But when it comes to forests, most said state rules take precedence over these other jurisdictions.

Shadow Wood began in the 1920s as an exclusive recreational getaway for Portlanders. Over the years, some of the rustic log cabins have undergone remodeling, and additional homes have been built in the neighborhood, just south of Lake Oswego on Stafford Road. Yet even as the area developed, those homes always backed an expansive forest.

Still, Haasken said, 'In Oregon, landowners have the right to do farming and forestry.

'The Forest Practices Act was designed to protect resources - not homes and developments,' he said. 'There's no other way to say it.'

According to the state forestry department, rules protect habitat for endangered and threatened species and streams that bear fish. The forestry act also requires replanting of trees after clear-cutting, Haasken said, unless the property owner decides to convert the land for farming or another use.

He said the state's database of federally listed species didn't show any considered threatened or endangered on the Johnson Road properties in question.

'The wildlife habitat is gone; there's nothing you can do about that,' he told Stafford residents. 'They aren't all dead. They're just not in your backyards anymore. It wasn't a public preserve. It was private property.'

He acknowledged that the grass now growing in formerly wooded fields could eventually pose a fire hazard and pointed to Tualatin Valley Fire and Rescue as likely having authority in that area.

But for now, he recommended upset homeowners install drainage ditches and plant new trees.

'Start planting trees along your property line,' Haasken said, noting the land behind their homes 'is going to be developed; who knows when? It might be five years, it might be 10, it might be 20. In the meantime get some trees growing.'

Mike McCallister of Clackamas County's planning division said state land-use law emphasizes preservation of farms and forests outside of the urban growth boundary. It's now pretty common for agricultural and forest land to bump up against relatively rural neighborhoods such as Shadow Wood.

'Certainly the impacts are much different than if you're halfway up Mount Hood,' McCallister told residents. 'Maybe you should be talking to your state representatives. … I won't promise you that's an easy game.'

Audience members weren't entirely satisfied with the suggestions.

In Shadow Wood, downhill from the clear-cut tracts, residents have experienced flooding, falling trees and failing septic systems since logging took place.

'Technically there's been no crime committed, but these people feel violated,' said Adam Klugman, a board member of the Stafford Hamlet, a local organization formed to provide input on land-use issues to Clackamas County. 'How can we put protocols in place so this doesn't happen again?

'Forestry has no protocols. There's a giant hole in the system.'

With no other options, he said, 'I would hate to think a class action lawsuit would be the only recourse the residents of Shadow Wood have.'

Klugman felt the prospect of lobbying legislators to amend state statue was 'daunting.' The real failure, he added, is the state's inability to protect residents through its laws.

It's possible that Stafford's forests will undergo additional logging as property owners prepare for eventual inclusion in the urban growth boundary, which would allow the county to apply its tree-cutting rules to their land.

The regional government has designated Stafford as an area for future urbanization.

Dave Adams, another Stafford board member, called on residents to band together to uphold a vision statement approved by the hamlet.

That vision does not include dense development along Johnson Road, he said.

'The future depends on you staying on your toes, paying attention, and when the conversation begins about the urban growth boundary, you all have to be party to it,' Adams said. 'It's not like there's no hope and we're doomed.'