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Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Washington State's Slippery Rules on Logging and the Oso Mudslide

Posted by on Wed, Apr 2, 2014 at 12:03 PM

A HILLSIDE NEARBY A lot of the hills along the Stillaguamish River look like this.
  • Kelly O
  • A HILLSIDE NEARBY A lot of the hills along the Stillaguamish River look like this.

Two days after the Hazel slope in Oso turned into what one rescue worker described as "a blender" of mud and trees hurtling downhill, a Snohomish County official told a roomful of reporters: "This was a completely unforeseen slide. This came out of nowhere." He was wrong. The unstable composition of the slope—loose silt and sand, deposited by glaciers on top of a layer of clay—was so well-known that a 1967 article in the Seattle Times referred to it as "slide hill," and a 1999 geological report for the Army Corps of Engineers discussed its "potential for large-scale catastrophic failure."

In the following week, government spokespeople found things to blame for the catastrophe—record-breaking rainfall, the Stillaguamish River cutting into the base of the slope—but one factor they didn't discuss much was money. Reporters dug up a decades-old history of warnings from scientists, who said the slope had been logged for about a century and that continued logging would exacerbate its already-dangerous condition. Companies continued logging anyway, under a patchwork of shifting regulations from the Department of Natural Resources (DNR)...

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