Comply with our ‘rules’ or abandon your private roads, says government agency
 They can’t do that, can they?  They already did!

compiled by Sue Forde for the Citizen Review Online

Okanogan County, WA – 4/25/02 – In the rural county of Okanogan, more than 1,000 people attended a meeting on April 11 called by the Okanogan County Farm Bureau, in opposition to the state’s Road Maintenance and Abandonment Plan (RMAP), aka The Plan.  The rules, adopted last June, require that every landowner in the state with more than two acres of “potential” forest property[1] is required to develop an RMAP[2].

One of the first responses heard was “They can’t do that!” as citizens began to understand the provision of the new Plan.  The problem is, it is already law, and many landowners are already in violation.  Landowners of over 500 acres are presently receiving letters notifying them of their state of non-compliance and giving them 30 days to respond.  Landowners of less than 500 acres will begin receiving notices in 2004 unless they apply sooner for a Forest Practice Application, which will force them to submit a Plan.

The basic bottom line of RMAPs is that private landowners have a choice to make with all their forest roads; either bring them up to Department of Natural Resources' (DNR) standards or abandon them in a permanent fashion, physically blocking them off from future use.

Required road standards vary greatly depending on their potential for “impacting a public resource.” The term “public resource[3]” is a nebulous term, but appears to include water, fish, wildlife, air and pretty much anything else the agency wants to include.  In other words, the families who own the land and pay taxes are required to manage their land to meet DNR standards for protecting “public resources.” 

The landowner is required to identify all problems- or “potential” problems- to a “public resource” to DNR, who then shares this information with the Dept. of Ecology, the Dept. of Fish and Wildlife, the Tribes, and “interested parties”. Landowners cannot expect any financial return on their investment, according to a DNR news release

If you own land “capable of supporting a merchantable stand of timber[4]” (what land in Washington isn’t “capable” of growing trees?), you are required to participate.  This appears to include owners of range land, if trees are present.  At a recent Okanogan Resource Council meeting[5], a DNR spokesman stated they anticipate enforcing this down to 2 acre parcels.

Another troubling aspect of this legislation is that signing RMAPs appears to put a conservation easement-type cloud on the property.  For example, if, after signing an RMAP agreement, the property is sold and the owner fails to properly notify both the buyer and the DNR of the continuing obligation to the RMAP plan, the seller can be held responsible for costs of both compliance and legal fees.  So say, as an example, you determine you can’t afford to pay the cost of $50,000 to comply with your RMAP, and you are forced to sell your property. If you don’t properly notify the buyer and DNR, you are still responsible for the costs of compliance.  If you do notify the buyer, he will mostly likely request a price reduction of $50,000.  Many would consider this a “taking.”

Another concern is that the Plan falls under the concept of “adaptive management”, meaning that even though a landowner signs an RMAP, the conditions could be changed at any time by the DNR,  and the landowner would have to abide by the rules as changed.

RMAPs and a host of other regulations are the result of the Forest and Fish negotiations of the late ‘90s, and are implemented by the Forest Practice board.  (As a matter of interest one of the representatives for “landowner at large” is the head lobbyist for the Washington Environmental Council.)  These negotiations were driven by Federal threats under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).  No real representative was there for the small landowners.

The new state rules give the landowners 2-1/2  years to complete the road planning and 15 years to complete the final roadwork. According to DNR - the government agency required to enforce these rules – there are about 91,000 small family forest owners who manage more than 3 million acres of Washington forestland. Complying with the RMAP is estimated to cost these 91,000 landowners $675 million (about $7,500 per family).

Okanogan County Farm Bureau president Joel Kretz said “I reject the whole premise that private landowners are responsible for public resources on private property.” He described how landowners can be sent a bill for cattle found grazing on public property.  Yet a private landowner cannot charge for a deer found grazing on private land.  “If this is the way they’re going to do it, then they need to get the ‘public resources’ off of private land”, he said.

The Okanogan County Commissioners have joined the growing numbers of people voicing opposition to the rules.  “…the state has no right to require any road to be built or maintained on private property, their public letter states.  “Second, the trees, forests, water and landscape on private ground are not 'public resources'; they are private property with the accompanying rights and responsibilities.  Third, the law requires private expenditure of funds far beyond the capacity of private landowners in our county to provide even if they wanted.  This is the imposition of a huge financial burden on private citizens, which is grossly unnecessary and unequally applied to rural residents.” The Commissioners’ statement ended by urging the state to repeal the law and refrain from enforcement until that is accomplished.

As a result, DNR Commission Doug Southerland, directed interim DNR Regional Manager to work with Farm Bureau Representatives. Their “work”, however, will be to divert a large part of staff and resources to “help you understand how these rules affect you…We will do everything we can to find the answers you need.”

Del Hastings, a retired DNR employee and resident of Tonasket, said, “I’ve seen how they [DNR] can operate and it’s not very complimentary.”  We’re in a war, he stated.

DNR’s role has changed, according to Mary Lou Peterson of Oroville. Originally set up to manage public lands for the benefit of schools, it has changed into an enforcement agency.  It will cost about $225 million in lost revenue for Washington schools, she said. “We put great effort into abiding by the laws., but do not give us laws we cannot live with,” she added.

Washington State Senator Bob Morton described how RMAP is a socialist approach for the problem rather than a democratic republic approach. “We are faced with continuous mandates coming down from the government based on “biological opinion,” said Morton.  “What we need is biological facts…”

Morton cited instances where government failed to help the people in Okanogan and Ferry Counties. (China sent apple seedlings, developed in Washington, but failed to protect the local crop with tariff protections, Battle Mountain Gold Company’s proposed mine; Loomis Forest management, rural ranching and others.) “This is the straw that has broken the camel’s back…and we’re drawing a line in the sand and not giving in,” said Morton.

One citizen stated, “We’ve heard this from agencies before, as they continue to strangle the use of our own land, and increase the cost to prohibit many from even living in rural areas.  ‘We’re here to help you understand’ – in other words, we don’t understand!  This is the epitome of the “overseer” attitude, rather than the “public servant” attitude we’ve come to see over the past few years.”

The Farm Bureau has suggested several methods to get involved with the RMAP opposition, including writing, calling and faxing members of Congress to support changes in the federal Endangered Species Act, and state legislators, the governor, and the commissioner of public lands.  For information on how to contact these, click here.

Sources for this story include the OC3 newsletter, The Omak-Okanogan County Chronicle and The Okanogan Valley Gazette-Tribune, interviews and research.

[1] While the regulations repeatedly refer to “forest landowners,” the definitions section of the DNR’s rules define forest land as “all land which is capable of supporting a merchantable stand of timber.”  A merchantable stand of timber means a stand of trees that will yield logs and/or fiber suitable in size and quality to produce lumber, plywood, pulp or other forest products of sufficient value to cover the costs of harvest and transportation to available markets.  It would seem to include  many more landowners than those usually considered traditional forest producers.  In these days of cottage industries, small-diameter logs and boutique products, what constitutes a “merchantable stand?”  If you’ve got a block of trees you want to pull and sell as firewood, are you a forest landowner?  If you’ve got a tree that blows over in your yard and your neighbor offers to buy it to make into picture frames, are you a forest landowner?  If you’ve got a treeless chunk of land that would support trees if they were planted, are you a … you get the idea!

[2] The program – detailed in Washington Administrative Code – requires forest landowners to prepare detailed inventories of roads within their property lines, and plans for their maintenance and eventual abandonment.  It also details what types of work must be done under certain conditions and sets penalties for non-compliance.  The goal, according to state Dept. of Natural Resources, is to lessen the impact of sediment and streamside disturbances on the state’s waters.  That will help meet Endangered Species Act requirements to protect fish, although the code also mentions protecting spotted owl and marbled murrelet habitat.

[3] "Public resources" or "publicly owned resources" means fish, animals, vegetation, land, waters of the state, and other resources belonging to, managed by, held in trust by, appertaining to, or otherwise controlled by the state. WAC 173-183-100   (31) Definitions  -

[4] according to WAC222-16-010

[5] according to an article by Okanogan County Farm Bureau president Joel Kretz in an article for the OC3 newsletter, March 2002.


In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, any copyrighted work in this message is distributed under fair use without profit or payment for non-profit research and educational purposes only. [Ref.]

Back to Current Edition Citizen Review Archive LINKS Search This Site