PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) -- A new court settlement means private timber owners and loggers in much of Oregon's Coast Range will face tougher environmental regulations to protect streams.

The settlement order issued Tuesday was prompted by a U.S. District Court lawsuit from Northwest Environmental Advocates. The settlement requires the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality to develop stricter rules to protect streamside trees, prevent landslides in high-risk areas and cut erosion and runoff from logging roads.

Nina Bell, executive director of Northwest Environmental Advocates, says federal agencies have noted weaknesses in Oregon's regulation of logging in the coastal area since 1998 but failed to force changes.

Her organization filed suit against the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Commerce.

In 1998, 2004 and 2008 the agencies pointed to problems with Oregon's logging rules that could lead to higher temperatures in streams, a problem for salmon and other fish.

The lawsuit focused on a federal law that protects coastal water quality. The coastal zone runs from the crest of the Coast Range west to the Pacific Ocean, and also includes the inland portions of the Rogue and Umpqua river basins.

The settlement and an Oregon attorney general's opinion issued in July give DEQ the authority to force changes in an area that's long been the province of the Oregon Department of Forestry. If the rules aren't adequate by May 2014, the state could lose federal grants that have brought in more than $50 million since 1996.

Clint Bentz, a small woodland owner outside Scio and chairman of the American Forest Foundation, said there are already strict rules on stream buffers, erosion and landslide prevention. Those rules include a 50-foot no-cut zone along fish-bearing streams, he said, with an additional 50-foot light touch buffer.

"What does the Department of Environmental Quality know about forestry?" he asks. "It doesn't seem to make a lot of sense."


Information from: The Oregonian, http://www.oregonlive.com

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