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Lands Commissioner: Logging Factor In Oso Slide 'Entirely Speculative'

Elaine Thompson
AP Photo
Trees tower above a now-barren hillside at the scene of a deadly mudslide that hit over a week before, Wednesday, April 2, 2014, in Oso, Wash.

Speaking for the first time since the Oso landslide hit Snohomish County, Washington Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark suggested anti-logging interests want to use the disaster to advance their cause.

In an exclusive interview, the two-term Democrat said he is indignant in the wake of news reports that have focused on past logging on the plateau above the slide.

“Frankly, the result of a small timber harvest that occurred in 2005, and the small timber harvest was about 7 acres. And whether or not that had any role in creating the slide is entirely speculative at this time,” said Goldmark, speaking to me on TVW’s “Inside Olympia” program.

He went on to say his agency’s prime focus right now is to help with the recovery effort and monitor the slide zone for further movement. He says studies will be conducted later to determine the cause of the deadly collapse of the hillside. In the meantime, Goldmark calls any speculation that logging played a contributing role “disappointing.”

“There are certain critics — and I’ll leave it at that — who are opposed to timber harvest, and so some of them seize on the opportunity to advance that view in the context of the emotional response around a terrible tragic event,” he said.

One high-profile environmentalist denies this charge.

“Respectfully, it’s extremely disappointing that our elected lands commissioner would accuse some of us of this,” said Peter Goldman, head of the Washington Forest Law Center and Goldmark campaign contributor.

“I turn the question back to the commissioner. Why would we not use the principle of precaution and stay out of these areas? We’re talking about lives here, and not just fish,” Goldman said.

The commissioner says there are no plans for a moratorium on logging in areas similar to where the Oso slide occurred.

Goldmark was first elected in 2008 with the strong backing of environmentalists following another high-profile landslide. The so-called Stillman Creek slide in southwest Washington put a spotlight on the controversial practice of steep-slope logging and helped catapult Goldmark to office. 

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy as well as the Washington State legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia." Prior to joining the Northwest News Network, Austin worked as a television reporter in Seattle, Portland and Boise. Austin is a graduate of Garfield High School in Seattle and Connecticut College in New London, Connecticut. Austin’s reporting has been recognized with awards from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors, Public Radio News Directors Incorporated and the Society of Professional Journalists.