DNR admits RMAPs may be illegal

By Bill Stevenson
Okanogan Chronicle staff

July 16, 2002
    Okanogan County, WA - Problems with road maintenance and abandonment plan requirements were identified recently by the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR), including that they might be unconstitutional and illegal.
     "DNR did a really good job of identifying a lot of the problems. They made a lot of progress on solutions, but there is a long way to go," said Joel Kretz, Okanogan County Farm Bureau president. "I was surprised at the movement in the DNR."
     Commissioner of Public Lands Doug Sutherland told nearly 1,000 people at the Okanogan County fairgrounds March 26 he would help find a resolution to complaints against RMAP requirements. He directed his staff to identify problems with RMAP requirements.
     RMAP requires landowners with merchantable timber - defined as any trees that could be sold to cover the cost of harvest - and private roads to submit plans to the DNR by 2005 detailing how and when roads are to be upgraded or abandoned at landowners' expense.
     RMAP requirements were adopted under the Forests and Fish Act to prevent sediment runoff from private property into public waterways, such as lakes and streams, and protect endangered fish such as steelhead and Chinook salmon, according to DNR officials.
     Kretz met with Sutherland and state officials several times since the March meeting to try and find acceptable resolutions. More meetings are expected, but Kretz said he is unsure when any changes will take place.
     "It went from a couple of months when it was 'these are the rules you are going to do,' to 'gosh, there are some problems with this,' " said Kretz. "We let them put their cards on the table . . . they have actually gone farther than I expected."
     DNR officials presented a three-page list of problems with RMAP requirements that is broken into five sections on how to address the various problems, such as changes in rules or laws, administrative changes, issues to be settled by education, issues under evaluation and "broader concerns," according to DNR records.
     Problems cited for recommended changes of rules or law include heavy financial burdens on family forest owners, RMAP standards too high, RMAP forms too complex, requirements are "one size fits all," and indescriptive definitions of family forest owners, forest road and forest land.
     "RMAPs are required even where there is no problem," according to the DNR list. "There is no prioritization of culvert replacements."
     Changes in rules or law also could address culvert replacements required despite downstream blockages, early deadlines, decreasing roads needed for firefighting and the unfeasible annual reporting requirement, according to DNR records.
     Issues that could be handled administratively include inconsistent guidance to family forest owners, lack of flexibility in culvert sizing and issues with DNR staff "directing unnecessary culvert replacements," according to the DNR list.
     Issues still under evaluation by the DNR include possible additional costs from federal cost sharing for fish blockage repairs and land buyer/seller notification requirements decreasing property value and impeding land transactions.
     Broader concerns of the DNR include the possibility of RMAP requirements being unconstitutional, illegal and a possible property taking; RMAP public records available for people seeking to cause trouble; landowners bearing burden of maintaining roads, and "agency access to family forest owners lands may be an infringement upon civil liberties."
     Sutherland, in a written comment after a June 19 meeting of the forest practices advisory board, said it "became clear that the RMAP requirements have some serious, unintended consequences."
     He noted that a number of changes are anticipated.
     "Forests and fish and the RMAP rules were never intended to put family foresters out of business, force them to harvest to pay for culvert replacement, or to convert forest land to strip malls," he continued.
     Changes to the RMAP requirements will take action by the DNR, state Legislature and state forest practices advisory board, said Kretz. The advisory board took no action on RMAP but heard testimony against the requirements during the June 19 meeting.
     "We are kind of at a crossroads right now," said Kretz. "We haven't been invited to the table yet, but we are watching."
     Okanogan County Farm Bureau opposes RMAP requirements and is supported by the state branch of the Farm Bureau. Kretz said bureaus around the state are applying pressure to state legislators in hopes of seeing changes.
     "The process has got some positive direction," said Kretz. "This is on simmer right now. We are trying to keep people involved . . . a lot of this is behind the scenes right now. We have to come up with solutions we want."

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