Road Maintenance and Abandonment Plans

White Paper from WA State Farm Bureau


Background: In 1997, in anticipation of the listing of Pacific Northwest salmon populations under the Endangered Species Act, and at the instigation of the Forest Practices Board, various state and federal agencies, tribes, environmental groups and the timber industry began negotiations that culminated in the drafting of the Forest and Fish Report. (The Association of Washington Counties joined the process late in the negotiations, and the environmental groups ultimately pulled out before the report was finished.)

The report established four goals: compliance with the ESA for aquatic and riparian-dependent species on nonfederal forestlands; restoration and maintenance of riparian habitat on nonfederal forestlands to support a harvestable supply of fish; compliance with the federal Clean Water Act; and to keep the timber industry in Washington economically viable.

In 1999, the Legislature adopted the Forest and Fish Act, essentially enacting the Forest and Fish Report, and directed the Forest Practices Board to develop rules to implement the law. The Legislature required that rules adopted pursuant to Forests and Fish "be as specific as reasonably possible while also allowing an applicant to propose alternate plans in response to site-specific physical features" (RCW 76.09.370). The board adopted permanent rules in June 2001 (WAC 222-24).

The Forest and Fish Report identified sediment in runoff from forest roads and culverts that blocked fish passage as significant problems. As part of its Forest and Fish rules, the Forest Practices Board required all owners of forestlands in Washington to develop Road Maintenance and Abandonment Plans, and to upgrade (or abandon) all forest roads to new Department of Natural Resources standards for commercial logging by 2015.

Who is affected: The RMAP regulations affect all owners of forestlands, regardless of acreage or actual forest practices, i.e. you do not need to be actively engaged, or planning to engage in cutting timber; the DNR does not need to show that your roads are causing any environmental damage or harm to riparian habitat. There is no "exemption" in the rule for forestland owners with less than 20 acres.

For purposes of RMAP, the DNR defines forestland as land that supports, or is capable of supporting, a "merchantable" stand of trees and is not actively being used in a way that is incompatible with growing timber.

The DNR defines forest road as any "ways, lanes, roads or driveways" on forestland that has been used for any forest practices or forest-management activities, including fire control, since 1974. A "merchantable" stand of trees are any trees that will yield logs or fiber suitable in size and quality for the production of lumber, plywood, pulp or other forest products, and of sufficient value to at least cover all the costs of harvest and transportation to available markets.

The bottom line is if you own land with any type of road and trees on it, you may be affected by RMAP. If you have any "typed water" on the property – defined by the DNR as any seasonal or year-round flowing streams, rivers, ponds lakes, non-forested wetlands or bodies of salt water -- you could be facing significant costs.

How much will RMAP cost: According to the U.S. Forest Service, there are an estimated 91,000 family forest owners in Washington whose holdings "tend to be located on lower elevation, highly productive land interspersed with streams and rivers." A study by the University of Washington found that at least 30 percent of these family forest owners have fish-bearing streams on their property. The same UW study estimated the cost for family forest owners to comply with RMAP at $375 million. Other estimates are $7,700 per mile to upgrade forest roads, plus ongoing maintenance, and up to $20,000 per culvert. Abandoning a road could cost $5,500 per mile. The University of Washington estimates that family forest owners will need to replace 8,500 culverts on 6,500 miles of forest roads. (Since RMAP applies to all streams, with or without fish, the number of affected forestland owners and the anticipated cost could be much greater.)

What must an RMAP include: Each RMAP must include maps showing all forest roads, orphaned roads, "typed" water, type A and B wetlands adjacent to or crossed by roads, planned or potential road abandonments, streams that parallel roads, and an inventory of their condition. It must also include a detailed description of the first year’s work, a schedule for completing RMAP requirements for the entire property within 15 years, description of routine road-maintenance and storm-maintenance practices, an assessment of orphaned roads’ risk to public resources or public safety, and measures that may need to be taken to correct any problems. An orphaned road is a road or railway grade that the forestland owner has not used for forest practice activities since 1974.

Who sees your RMAP: RMAP rules require DNR to consult with the state Department of Ecology, state Department of Fish and Wildlife, tribes, and "interested parties" on the review and approval of RMAPs. Completed RMAPs become public records available to anyone.

What is the timetable for complying with RMAP: Property owners with more than 500 acres of forestlands in any DNR region were required to submit a Road Maintenance and Abandonment Plan covering 20 percent of their roads or base forestland by Dec. 31, 2001. They are required to submit plans covering an additional 20 percent of their property each year.

Property owners with less than 500 acres in a DNR region are required to submit a limited RMAP with their first forest-practices application (covering the area affected by the forest practice). Forest practices that require a permit application include growing timber, harvesting timber, processing timber, brush control, building trails or roads, salvage of downed trees, and applying fertilizers or pesticides. Small forestland owners must then submit an RMAP covering the remainder of their property within one year.

All forestland owners must have completed an RMAP for their entire property by the end of 2005, regardless of their acreage and whether they have submitted a forest-practices application. All forest road upgrades must be completed by 2015.

In addition, the DNR could require forestland owners to submit a plan to correct the problem within 90 days if the department determines that their forest roads have "the potential to damage public resources." Public resources are defined as water, fish, wildlife and any government-owned capital improvements. Since the premise of the Forest and Fish Act and RMAP is that all forest roads near "typed" waters have the potential to damage water quality and/or riparian habitat, theoretically the rules allow DNR to require nearly 30,000 forestland owners (based on the UW study) to submit RMAPs long before the 2005 deadline.

Continuing obligations: Once forestland owners submit RMAPs and pay to upgrade forest roads and/or replace culverts, they are responsible for maintaining those roads and culverts to DNR standards. Property owner also must notify potential buyers of any unmet or ongoing RMAP obligations.

Enforcement: The DNR may impose civil penalties for failing to comply with RMAP rules, which could become a lien on the forestland owner’s property. If DNR determines that a forestland owner is out of compliance with an RMAP work schedule and the work is necessary to prevent potential or actual damage to "public resources," the department can issue a stop-work order that restricts use of "the affected road segment."

The following summarizes some of the problems Washington Farm Bureau has identified with the RMAP regulations.

o RMAP places a time-consuming and potentially costly burden on private property owners even where no environmental problems have been shown to exist. It is a blanket one-size-fits-all governmental approach that erodes private property rights and penalizes private citizens who have done nothing wrong.

o RMAP imposes costly regulations RETROACTIVELY on private property owners who, in good faith, followed state and federal guidelines for maintaining forest roads, even if those roads have not been used for logging in decades. In many instances, those roads may be used only a few times a year as landowners check on their property.

o RMAP imposes regulations to prevent environmental damage from forest roads used for logging even when property owners have no intention of harvesting their timber. It is unreasonable to force property owners who do not plan to harvest their trees to meet standards designed for logging on private roads that may be seldom used.

o Some private forestland owners could be forced to harvest trees they had no intention of cutting in order to pay for the road improvements, not only resulting in more trees being cut on private lands, but potentially creating the same type of environmental damage the regulations were supposedly adopted to prevent. The Department of Natural Resources even recognizes this possibility when it suggests that private forestland owners time their harvests to coincide with the need to pay for RMAP improvements.

o RMAP is unfair. Private property owners are being required to finance public improvements. A DNR publication, "Improving Family Forest Roads for Public Benefit," acknowledges, "Forest landowners are faced with privately financing improvements to their forest roads even though the improvements only benefit public resources." Private individuals should not be required to foot the bill for benefits to public resources that the public deems important. In the paper cited above, the DNR concluded, "Family forest owners cannot afford the entire cost of making road improvements mandated by new state forest practices rules. Public funding is necessary to help family forest owners better protect public resources."

o The state should not impose RMAP regulations on private forestland owners until it has met the same requirements on state-owned forestlands. The DNR has already said it may not have the money or resources to meet the same deadlines it is imposing on private forestland owners.

o RMAP is another example of the federal government using state agencies to impose federally driven regulations on residents of Washington state. The DNR also acknowledges this in the same paper cited above when it says, "As these obligations are a direct outgrowth of the Endangered Species Act, the federal government should help family forest owners meet their RMAP obligations."

o The RMAP regulations are vague, making it difficult if not impossible for forestland owners to know exactly what they are required to do, or what it will cost them. Many on-the-ground decisions are left up to the discretion of DNR field managers.

o RMAP could create financial hardship for many family foresters and harm the family forest-products industry.

o RMAP creates a restrictive covenant on private lands that transfers from seller to buyer in perpetuity.

What is Farm Bureau’s goal: Eliminate RMAP requirements on small forestland owners that could cause financial hardship and/or interfere with the exercise of 5th Amendment and private property rights.


© Washington Farm Bureau, 2002

FB will fight costly forest road rules as far as necessary
June 2002 Newsletter

Washington Farm Bureau will explore administrative, regulatory and legislative ways to fix problems with new state regulations that could cost small forestland owners millions of dollars.

If all else fails, Farm Bureau is willing to take the matter to court.

That was the strategy mapped out last month by Hertha Lund, assistant director of government relations, in the first of several Farm Bureau meetings scheduled around the state to explain the Road Maintenance and Abandonment Plan (RMAP) regulations.

The rules, adopted last year by the Forest Practices Board to implement the Forest and Fish Act, require all property owners with "merchantable" trees to upgrade forest roads to commercial logging standards within 15 years, or abandon them, even if they never intend to harvest the timber.

The University of Washington has estimated the rules could cost small forestland owners $375 million – including $7,700 per mile of forest road and up to $20,000 per culvert to allow fish passage.

Lund said the rules place a costly burden on private property owners even where no environmental problems may exist. They also take a blanket approach to regulation that penalizes private citizens who have done nothing wrong.

She said some landowners have said they may be forced to cut down trees to afford road upgrades even though they would prefer to leave them standing.

"Even the Department of Natural Resources sees a fairness problem," Lund said.

In a March white paper outlining issues with the rules, "Improving Family Forest Roads for Public benefit," the DNR noted: "Forest landowners are faced with privately financing improvements to their forest roads even though the improvements only benefit public resources."

The DNR also concluded: "This extensive investment … may further erode the economic viability of family forestry."

But the financial burden is not the only issue, Lund said. The rules also raise concerns about privacy and civil liberties.

For example, the rules require landowners to inventory all forest roads, "orphaned roads," streams and wetlands on their property and provide an assessment of the risk to "public resources" and safety as part of their RMAP plans.

The rules then state that DNR will review these plans with the state Department of Ecology, the Department of Fish and Wildlife, tribes and "interested parties." Completed RMAPs become public records available to anyone.

Lund said Farm Bureau has already started talking with DNR and key state legislators about the problems created by RMAP and possible solutions. State Public Lands Commissioner Doug Sutherland told the Forest Practices Board last month that his office is preparing a list of "fixes" that could be applied administratively or through the regulatory process, along with those issues that may need to be addressed by the Legislature.

"The process is started, and we seem to be headed in the right direction," said Dean Boyer, director of public relations for the Washington Farm Bureau.

But he reminded the nearly 300 people who attended the meeting in Montesano that "the grass-roots are still the key to success."

He urged Farm Bureau members and other small forestland owners to stay informed; talk to their neighbors about RMAP; call, write or e-mail Sutherland, their county commissioners and their state legislators, and to attend Forest Practices Board meetings.

Boyer added that members need to be ready to "turn up the heat" if the process veers off course.

"We have their attention," Boyer said, referring to a pair of anti-RMAP rallies organized by the Okanogan County Farm Bureau that drew nearly 2,000 people. "Now we have to make sure they continue listening to us. You – the people in this room and all your friends and neighbors – are the ones who can make that happen."

Schedule of RMAP meetings.

Sign up for e-mail RMAP updates.


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