Comply with our
‘rules’ or abandon your private roads, says government agency
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
is required to develop an RMAP.
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”
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
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”
(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,
a DNR spokesman stated they anticipate enforcing this down to 2 acre
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
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
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
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
Sources for this story include the OC3 newsletter, The Omak-Okanogan County Chronicle and The Okanogan Valley Gazette-Tribune, interviews and research.
 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!
 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
"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 - http://www.leg.wa.gov/wac/index.cfm?fuseaction=Section&Section=173-183-100
according to WAC222-16-010
 according to an article by Okanogan County Farm Bureau
president Joel Kretz in an article for the OC3 newsletter, March 2002.
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