OLYMPIA, WA - 5/22/02-- Owners of small forest lands across
the state are pushing for changes in a law that requires them to pay for
expensive road improvements on their property.
The Road Maintenance and Abandonment Plan is a piece of the Forest and Fish
Bill -- the 1999 state legislation that spells out what state and private
forestland owners must do to improve fish habitat and water quality for salmon
protected under the federal Endangered Species Act.
The state and private landowners have 15 years to bring their roads up to
new standards on about 8 million acres to reduce landslides, improve fish
passage and reduce sediment runoff into some 60,000 miles of streams.
Plans on how they intend to complete the work are due in five years.
The University of Washington estimates it will cost more than $375 million
for roughly 91,000 family forestland owners to upgrade their roads.
Most of the cost is for new culverts where roads cross streams.
The design, purchase and installation of a road culvert can easily top
$25,000, Olympia tree farmer Nels Hanson said.
"The culverts are a heavy hit," he said.
The road maintenance regulation is too broad, failing to distinguish
between people who plan to cut trees and those who don't, said Dean Boyer,
spokesman for the Washington Farm Bureau, which is conducting statewide public
meetings on the issue through June 13.
A March meeting on the topic at the Okanogan County Fairgrounds in Omak
drew nearly 1,000 people. Many were unaware of the law's requirements, Boyer
"Everybody agrees it's a poorly crafted regulation that needs to be
fixed," he said.
Rep. Jim Buck, R-Joyce, is one of the authors of the Forest and Fish Bill.
He said work is under way to remedy the problems.
Key legislators, the Department of Natural Resources and state and federal
salmon recovery officials met with the farm bureau three weeks ago, Buck said,
and they agreed to several things, including:
- Ensuring the culvert work required is done first on high-priority,
- Exempting owners of less than 20 acres from the Road Maintenance
and Abandonment Plan requirements.
- Settling on one clear definition of how much timber a landowner
must harvest to trigger the requirements of the plan.
"What we want is fish passage and no new sediment in the
streams," Buck said.
State work needed
For some, it's a question of equity.
For example, a private forestland owner could be required to improve fish
passage on his property while fish blockages on nearby county, state or
federal roads remain in place, said Bill Pickell of the Washington Contract
The DNR has a $250 million task ahead on its own 14,000 miles of forest
The state agency will be asking for money from the 2003 state Legislature
to start work on its own roads, agency spokesman Todd Myers said.
Meanwhile, DNR expects to have a list of ideas by June to share with state
legislators and others for dealing with road repairs on small forest parcels.
But any remedy for family forestland owners must not be at the expense of
clean water and improved habitat for fish, Myers said.
The federal government should provide financial assistance to family
foresters facing road maintenance planning and repairs, Hanson and DNR
However, current federal cost-sharing regulations prevent federal money
from being used to comply with requirements imposed by law.
A farm bill before Congress could make federal cost-sharing money available
for culvert replacements, Hanson said.
"Where it's a hardship for small forestland owners to meet
requirements of the law, it makes sense to help them," said Becky Kelly
of the Washington Environmental Council.
However, she said, the farm bureau and others might be using the flap over
the Road Maintenance and Abandonment Plan as a way of organizing opposition to
the federal Endangered Species Act.
The farm bureau meetings, which begin in Montesano on Thursday night, are
informational forums, not rabble-rousing meetings, Boyer said.
Several Eastern Washington legislators already are calling for the state
Forest Practices Board to offer some relief.
Enforcement of the plan above Chief Joseph Dam on the Columbia River is
meaningless because salmon can't get beyond the dam, said State Sen. Bob
Morton, R-Kettle Falls.
He also suggested exempting property owners from the rule in areas with
less than 30 inches of rain per year.
"There's no way to make one rule fit all areas," he said.
Sen. Karen Fraser, D-Thurston County, cautioned that the Forest and Fish
legislation was the result of negotiated agreement between the state, timber
companies, tribes, local governments and federal agencies that administer the
Endangered Species Act.
Any major amendments to the law could jeopardize some of the relief the
timber industry received from the Endangered Species and Clean Water acts, she
"We're going to try to resolve most of this administratively,"
John Dodge covers the environment and energy for The Olympian. He can be
reached at 360-754-5444 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.