PUBLIC LANDS COMMISSIONER DOUG SUTHERLAND SPEAKS IN BELFAIR
By Mary Swoboda
Belfair, WA - May 14, 2002 - Washington State Public Lands Commissioner Doug Sutherland spoke to a crowd of about 25 people at Theler Center in Belfair on Thursday, May 9, 2002, on a wide range of issues, from forestry practices, poaching and bug infestations to how the Road Maintenance and Abandonment Plan (RMAP) will adversely impact property owners, both public and private.
Mr. Sutherland oversees the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), which manages 2.1 million acres of forestland, 1.25 million acres of agricultural land and 2.6 million acres of aquatic land for seven different trusts (the largest is the common school trust). The State Constitution requires the DNR to manage these trusts with "undivided loyalty" to benefit the beneficiaries and all the people of Washington. "We try to earn as much money as we can because the more we earn, the less burden on taxpayers," Mr. Sutherland acknowledged.
Speaking specifically of the Tahuya Forest, Mr. Sutherland said it is becoming more and more well known throughout Western Washington as a great place to enjoy outdoor recreation because it is close to large population centers. Public access to all DNR-managed forests is encouraged, but Mr. Sutherland reminded the audience that his first responsibility is to the forest and its health, and to maintain a sustainable timber harvest in perpetuity for the benefit of the beneficiaries.
Speaking of the forest's health, Mr. Sutherland shared a concern that Washington forests "have a significant infestation of bugs" that have migrated from California through Oregon and Washington and into Canada.
"Forests are living mosaics," he said, and "require active management, not passive management." The average life cycle of mature trees is 35-70 years and if they are not harvested or properly thinned, disease and bug infestation become more prevalent, invariably leading to destructive wild fires. Currently, the DNR is conducting an extensive, 2-year study to determine the proper level of sustainable harvest for the trees they manage.
Shellfish poaching is a serious problem. Unchecked, poachers can deplete the harvest so severely that people aren't able to harvest shellfish in certain areas for a long time. Both DNR and Fish and Wildlife enforcement officers monitor shoreline areas during the day, but most "professional" poachers work at night. Mr. Sutherland suggested that anyone who hears unusual sounds at night in known shellfish habitat areas should call the State Patrol at 1-800-283-7808 to report suspected poaching.
Mr. Sutherland discussed the impacts of the Road Maintenance and Abandonment Plan (RMAP), which will adversely impact nearly every property owner who owns 2.5 acres or more of forestland or land with a stream on it.
In 1995, the federal government issued a mandate requiring each state to develop a plan that would provide assurances to the federal government, which in turn would "protect" (indemnify) state government from lawsuits on actions taken in forest areas. Representatives from tribes, environment, industrial timber, small landowner timber, and state agencies were involved in the negotiation. In 1999, the legislature adopted and the governor signed "in statute" the Forest and Fish Report, which was the outcome of those negotiations. DNR was tasked to develop the implementing regulations, taking effect on July 1, 2001. "It's an incredibly thick book. Not quite as bad as the tax code, but almost, and the language is sometimes very difficult to work your way through it," said Mr. Sutherland.
There were several issues DNR had to resolve:
. Buffers on streams
. Harvesting practices
. Forest road standards
Existing forest roads too close to streams would have to be abandoned and standards would have to be developed on how new roads would be built. New culverts would need to be large enough to have a bottom of rock or other streambed material, rather than just bare culvert. "Most fish won't swim through a culvert without some materials on the bottom -- at least that's what they say -- because [the fish] don't think it's a streambed," Mr. Sutherland said.
"This is how RMAP - the Road Maintenance and Abandonment Plan -- was born," he added.
Education of the public began in July 1999 with DNR land managers targeting property owners with more than 500 acres first since there are only about 1,200 to 1,500 owners of land in excess of 500 acres and they have the highest probability of harvest activity. As a result, many of the approximately 90,000 landowners with 500 acres or less were unaware of this latest infringement upon their property rights.
RMAP requires property owners of forestland or land containing a stream to identify any streams on the property, then develop a plan as to how they will deal with roads and culverts. Property owners have 5 years to put the plan in place and 15 years to make the improvements (a total of 20 years). However, if the property owner plans to harvest timber, the plan must be put into place at the same time the forest harvest application is submitted. RMAP gave property owners with over 500 acres flexibility to complete one-fifth of their plan over each year of the 5-year period. Smaller property owners have five years to develop their plan.
DNR continued with their public education efforts and more people became aware of the RMAP "problem."
DNR itself has had RMAP "problems," according to Mr. Sutherland. "We had to replace a culvert, which cost us $18,000. Two hundred feet above the culvert was a natural barrier that no fish could get up. A quarter mile downstream was a county road with a culvert that the county intended to change in about 15 years. However, we had harvest activity above this road and that's why we had to change the culvert. The culvert change came out of DNR's proceeds of the harvest, reducing the value of that particular harvest by $18,000."
"DNR has some 14,000 miles of roads," Mr. Sutherland continued. "Our best guess is RMAP is going to cost us, in this 20-year period, about $200 million [in reduced revenue to the trusts]. But the private sector has the same problem." It's just a guess, but it will cost the private sector somewhere around $300-350 million.
"Depending on how you look at it, there is a lot of confusion. There are different definitions of what constitutes small landowners: Is it 500 acres or less? Is it how much they harvest (2 million board feet or less per year)? Is it the amount of precipitation or the height of the man?" Mr. Sutherland said with a wry smile.
Some people believe existing roads built to previous standards should be left in place. If a new road is built, then the new road should be built to the new standards. "If you're going to redo an old road [to bring it into compliance with RMAP]," Mr. Sutherland explained, "that's like telling someone who's been living in the same house since 1949 and has single-pane windows that they are now obligated under energy regulations to change to triple-pane windows. AND they've got to do it in 5 years."
"Now that we have some actual field experience," Mr. Sutherland said, "we'll look at the specifics of what the regulations say, then go out and look at a particular piece of property and say [to ourselves], 'That's dumb. Anyone with any stretch of common sense would never approach it that way.' "
"We're in the process now of trying to identify what we can do administratively to adjust, change or modify the rules yet stay within the flexibility and authority that we have in the Forest Practices Board," he continued. "We've changed the forest and fish agreement in each of the legislative sessions (2001 and 2002) by small tweakings as we become aware of problems. This is a bigger problem than what we've experienced so far, but I think it's beholden upon us to see what we need to do to make it work. I'm not interested in doing a lot of heavy-handed enforcement. I think it's more important to understand the intent and purpose in the first place and then to be able to adjust it accordingly."
"Interestingly enough," Mr. Sutherland added, "part of the initial problems and concerns of the legislature were we couldn't give people a lot of flexibility because what they'd do is lower the thresholds of these regulations and continue to lower them to the point where the federal government would no longer agree that the assurances are in place. So [the legislature] made rule-making very difficult. You can only do it through scientific analysis. Our ability to make reasonable changes is very difficult because it has to go through an adaptive management review with some scientific substance in order to make that change. We're working on that and trying to figure out just how much flexibility we have. Then we'll go back to the legislature and say, 'Hey guys, this ain't gonna work and you're going to have to change some definitions and give us some clarification.' "
"This has been a huge education process for our people as well as everybody else. We're all kind of learning together," Mr. Sutherland concluded.
Over time, property rights have been so seriously eroded that today we have only the illusion of owning property. We rent the land; the government controls it. The nation - or collective - is exalted above the rights of the individual. A centralized, dictatorial bureaucracy imposes social conformity through regulation while suppressing or marginalizing any opposition.
"We the people" delegate authority to public servants, not the other way around. But we have grown complacent and irresponsible. Public servants, because they are efficient at what they do, stepped in to fill the void, taking upon themselves the right to decide what is good "collectively" for "we the people."
At what point will each of us decide, "Enough is enough!"?
Doug Sutherland seems to be a leader who is willing to speak and act with courage, confidence and truth. At the same time, he seems willing to work both for the good of his employees and "we the people" whom he serves. The current deafening silence of the majority needs to become a deafening roar for reason and common sense, with the rights of the individual protected above all.
"All political power is inherent in the people, and governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, and are established to protect and maintain individual rights." Section 1 of the Washington State Constitution
"The people of this state do not yield their sovereignty to the agencies that serve them. The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may maintain control over the instruments that they have created. The public records subdivision of this chapter shall be liberally construed and its exemptions narrowly construed to promote this public policy." RCW 42.17.251
For more information:
Department of Natural Resources: www.wa.gov/dnr/base/aboutdnr.html
Washington State Farm Bureau: www.wsfb.com
Chelan/Douglas County Farm Bureau: www.chelandouglasfb.com/
"New Forest Practice Rules in Washington State," Brian J. Vrablick, Northwest Management, Inc.: http://consulting-foresters.com/Newsletter/i-index.html
WASHINGTON STATE REGISTER WSR 99-09-078 PROPOSED RULES, FOREST PRACTICES BOARD: http://slc.leg.wa.gov/wsr/1999/09/99-09-078.htm
"Individualism, Collectivism, and Terrorists" by Ray Thomas: http://www.sierratimes.com/02/04/22/raythomas.htm
"The Green Matrix" by Diane Alden: http://www.newsmax.com/commentarchive.shtml?a=2002/2/20/170856
© 2002 by Mary Swoboda. Publication or redistribution is permitted without prior notification provided it is published in its entirety with no modifications.
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