Last month, a modification of the Oregon Forest Practices Act’s (FPA) stream buffer rules went into effect. Below is a brief discussion summarizing the new regulations, and how it may affect Trout Mountain Forestry clients.

The main change to the current FPA was the creation of a subset of fish-bearing streams. This subset is known as the Salmon, Steelhead, and Bull Trout (SSBT) category. This means that for any small or medium sized fish-bearing stream on a property (or in some cases adjacent to a property) that is known to have salmon, steelhead, or bull trout, the changes in the table above on the right-hand column will be applicable.

The new rules aim to better protect salmon, steelhead, and bull trout by increasing the riparian buffers, increasing the basal area to be retained, and requiring the “well-distributed” spacing of residual trees, among other things. Hardwoods can now be counted for residual trees as well. All of these steps are meant to put more shade on the stream, cooling the water for fish.

One potential problem comes with the north-side stream buffer option. In the new ruling, if an SSBT stream flows within ±30° of an easterly/westerly direction, and flows for at least 200’, the buffer on the north side of the stream may be reduced to 40’. This is because the trees on the north side of the stream are not providing shade to the stream. The problem of course comes with the concept of sinuosity, or the natural curves of a stream. In the northside buffer scenario, consider the following:


In the diagram above, which buffer takes precedence over the other? The 40’ or the 80’? At the time of the Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF) training, officials did not have an answer.

A concern for landowners and practitioners alike is the increased workload for the already understaffed stewardship foresters of ODF. Under the new ruling, the ODF forester will need to come out to each operation, measuring and recording the lengths of stream reaches impacted, the proposed residual basal area in the riparian zone, and the live tree count to insure compliance. Due to the seasonality of working in the woods here in Oregon, this process could create a bottleneck for getting projects approved and running before the rains return.

Several components of the new ruling are meant to provide flexibility. A relief clause for smaller landowners was worked into the new rules. In essence, if buffers created by the new ruling impact more than 8% of the landowner’s total forestland, that landowner is entitled to a reduced riparian buffer or reduced basal area targets and live tree requirements. Additionally, if a landowner or forester has an alternate prescription that meets or exceeds the protection of the resource in the opinion of the ODF stewardship forester, they may submit it in writing for approval.

In closing, it remains to be seen how practical implementation will be for landowners and operators, or if they will simply avoid managing the riparian zones altogether due to the increased red tape. While this discussion has been focused on the changes and challenges to implementation, it also remains to be seen if these improvements will actually benefit salmon, steelhead, and bull trout. For that, only time will tell.

For more information on the FPA, as well as additional resources, please refer to: