Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Blame the Trees


It has been three weeks since a massive landslide buried the small town of Oso, Washington. Hope of rescue is gone, though salvage work remains as residents work to recover the remnants of their lives. This week the State of Washington will hold it's first public forum on the redevelopment of Highway 530 which rums along the base of the slide deposit. Washington is used to landslides. Washington is trying to move on.

The rest of the nation though, is apparently still astounded by the reality of geology happening in real time, regardless of human engineering. The Huffington Post ran an article yesterday claiming that the slide was not a natural disaster at all, but the direct result of irresponsible and outdated logging. The article went on to claim that logging is a silent industry that operates in the shadows without regulation or public comment. 

And while they are correct, the clear cutting of the slopes above Oso did contribute to the slide, so did years of human behavior that contributed to climate change, resulting in the wettest March on record. The logging industry does not operate in the shadows to anyone living in the Pacific Northwest, here it is big news. Big, and constant news. But the housing market has turned around, and businesses are booming, and little notice is paid to logging issues outside the region. Fly into Oregon sometime and insist that clear cuts are hidden.

It is tempting to simplify the events in Oso, to find a singular factor on which to place blame, especially if it suits your value system or politics. But the reality is that it is more complicated than that. We do not have the kind of control of nature we would like to claim. We still call floods natural disasters even when they are caused by poor choices in engineering and development and climate change we have brought upon ourselves. We need to start to look at these events with open eyes, and see the diversity of factors, many of which are within our control, that contribute to them. Start with the science.

To watch a USGS simulation of the slide, estimated to have taken less than ninety seconds from start to finish:

To read the Huffington Post article:

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