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2021 Will Bring New Pesticide Restrictions and Fish Habitat Protections To Oregon

U.S. Fish and Wildlife

The new year will bring changes to the areas forest managers can spray pesticides in Oregon and how far away timber must be harvested from fish-bearing streams in the Siskiyou region.

Both regulatory changes are the result of amendments made to the state’s Forest Practices Act, and were supported by both conservation and timber industry groups, according to the Oregon Department of Forestry.

Starting January 1, 2021, the buffers for helicopter pesticide spraying must be increased to 300 feet around school campuses and inhabited dwellings. Sprayers must maintain a 75-foot buffer from streams containing fish or which have domestic uses, and 50 feet from other surface water sources. The pesticide buffer changes came from SB 1602, which the state legislature passed during their June, 2020 special session.

“Most landowners opt for some form of chemical application to control vegetation,” says Jim Gersbach, a spokesperson with the Oregon Department of Forestry. He says herbicides are sprayed on recently harvested timber land with newly planted trees to allow conifers to out-compete other species. SB 1602 applies to non-federal forest lands.

“That law increases the buffers around homes, schools, water intakes, [and] certain streams when pesticides are sprayed by helicopter,” Gersbach says.

The law does not affect pesticide spraying done from planes, drones, or applied on the ground. A section of the law that would require a system to notify nearby residents about future spraying is in the works and will not go into effect until summer.

The second change to the Oregon Forest Practices Act in the new year focuses on increased buffers to protect streams that provide habitat for salmon, steelhead, and bull trout in the Siskiyou region of Southwestern Oregon.

Forest buffers surrounding approximately 370 miles of small and medium-sized streams will be expanded. Protection from timber harvest will increase by 10 feet per side.

The same protections are already in place for Oregon’s northern and central coast ranges to provide shade and maintain cold water for fish habitat, according to Gersbach.

“It clarifies now that what you were doing in Western Oregon when you were doing forest operations around fish-bearing streams, go ahead and use those for Southern Oregon,” he says.

Erik Neumann is JPR's news director. He earned a master's degree from the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism and joined JPR as a reporter in 2019 after working at NPR member station KUER in Salt Lake City.