New forest rules will protect salmon while relieving financial burdens
April 25, 2003
An amendment to Washington's Forest and Fish Law, if signed by the
governor, will take the pressure off many small-forest owners who
say they can't afford to upgrade roads and replace culverts on their
Hubert believes he will now get by with a "checklist" instead of an extensive Road Maintenance and Abandonment Plan, or RMAP.
A storm of protest blew up last year when small landowners throughout the state realized the financial burden of the 1999 law, designed to protect salmon habitat.
The law not only required forest owners to file RMAPs -- a burden for many -- but it called for replacing culverts that could block fish passage. Each new culvert replacement could cost as much as $30,000, officials said.
The amended law, passed by the Legislature this week, would not require any culvert replacements for small-forest owners until state officials identified their streams as high priority for salmon. Even then, the state would pay three-fourths of the cost, and the financial obligation to property owners would be limited to $5,000.
The RMAPs would not be required for blocks of land less than 20 acres if the total ownership is less than 80 acres.
A simple checklist is all that is required for other small-forest owners, defined as harvesting less than 2 million board feet a year.
The revised law was proposed by Gov. Gary Locke and Commissioner of Public Lands Doug Sutherland after they realized the implications of the previous rules.
"We had a real concern that the previous rules would have encouraged family foresters to harvest early to cover their costs, develop their land, or go bankrupt," Sutherland said.
Of 8 million acres of forest in Washington, about half is owned by relatively small owners.
John "Jay" Holmberg of Tracyton said he didn't know how he could afford to keep his 320 acres of forest in Pend Oreille County in northeast Washington under the old rules.
A stream runs through his property, and he would be forced to replace four culverts.
"I could just see the value of the property going down because of this requirement," he said. "With this new bill, we'll be in better shape."
State Rep. Phil Rockefeller, D-Bainbridge Island, shepherded the bill through the Legislature.
"It came out very well," he said. "We had broad support from stakeholders across the spectrum of interest."
Rockefeller said it took work to get everybody to agree. In the end, environmental supporters realized the value of maintaining small-forest lands while property owners recognized the value of salmon habitat.
"It was a fascinating experience, and I have seldom worked so hard," Rockefeller said.
The most important thing, he said, is that it appears the federal government will accept the amended Forest and Fish Law as protective of salmon. Federal approval of Washington's Forest Practices Rules will avoid drawn-out approvals by the federal government of every logging application.
The next major issue is public funding for culvert removal, Rockefeller said.
Sherry Fox of the Washington Farm Forestry Association said small-forest owners are "ecstatic" with the amendments.
"The bipartisan efforts and involvement of diverse stakeholders were truly historic," she said.
Reach Christopher Dunagan at (360) 792-9207 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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