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What does the future hold for Oregon’s family-owned forests?

Cary Renzema interrupts a stroll around his 50-acre forest to point out tiny purple petals peeking out from the forest floor. “Beautiful little orchids,” Renzema says. “Once you start looking, there are hundreds of those things around here.”

For 13 years Renzema has studied this forest’s quirks and charms, explored its groves of cedar trees and patches of vine maple and wild rose about 25 miles west of Portland. Today, though, those sights are bittersweet. As part of a divorce settlement, he may have to log this second-growth forest, leaving thousands of stumps where trees have stood for three generations.

A small, privately owned forest outside of Portland.

Can carbon markets help Oregon’s small forests?

When cancer comes calling, what if owners of small forest plots had another choice but to sell or to cut? That’s the premise of a pilot program being launched in Washington and Columbia counties of northwest Oregon. Anchored by the Pinchot Institute for Conservation and an $820,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Forest Health/Human Health Initiative envisions what planners call an “A-Tree-M” card for forest owners who are threatened by medical bills but don’t want to cut or sell. The source of the income: Emerging markets for sequestering planet-warming carbon dioxide. Are they serious?

Bigger cleanup, but no end to fishing restrictions on the Duwamish

Seattle’s biggest toxic mess is going to take more cleanup than previously thought, federal officials said Tuesday in releasing their plan for the Duwamish River Superfund site. But when the cleanup is finished, people will still be warned against eating seafood from the river, officials acknowledged. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s final cleanup plan boosts by one-fifth the amount of river bottom to be dredged up and hauled away. In a draft plan released last year, EPA said it would require 84 acres of contaminated river bottom to be removed, while the final plan released Tuesday would expand that to 105 acres. The cost for the remaining work increases from $305 million to $342 million.

Seattle' Duwamish River

How Government and Boeing Fought to Curtail Duwamish River Cleanup

After a decade of studies that cost millions of dollars, the time had come for the people living around Seattle’s biggest toxic mess to tell the government what a cleanup should look like. On a spring night in 2013, Spanish-speaking residents of south Seattle approached a microphone that sat beneath the basketball hoop at the South Park Community Center. One by one, they envisioned a new future for the Duwamish River and the neighborhoods it passes through. Today those neighborhoods of South Park and Georgetown are home to some of King County’s highest rates of hospitalization for childhood asthma. Locals regularly fish the river, despite government prohibitions due to high levels of toxic chemicals in seafood caught there.

State delayed years on toxic fish; Inslee to outline his plan today

A 'Healthy Choice' program brochure advising consumers about safe fish consumption.
Credit: Washington Department of Health

Ten minutes and four slides. That’s what a Washington Department of Health staffer responsible for warning the public about contaminants in fish was allotted to impress then-Health Secretary Mary Selecky about the importance of the issue.

Lots of luck, warned former Department of Health toxicology chief Rob Duff — Selecky and her crew are “skeptics” who “are not very interested” in environmental health.

And yet, wrote Duff: “If not DOH, who?”

That was early 2008. In the months that followed, Health Department staffers would continue to raise contaminated fish as a public health issue, records and interviews show.  Among their concerns: a long-known error in the state formula that controls how much toxic pollution can be dumped into waterways by factories, sewage-treatment plants and other polluters.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has since repeatedly warned the state to fix the error.

Now, a year and a half into the Inslee administration, the governor is scheduled to announce his plan today in Olympia.