Protecting working forests in times of growth

Protecting working forests in times of growth

As Washington’s population continues to grow, many newcomers from other parts of the country or world may end up buying a home or property next working forestland that engages in timber harvest. A bipartisan bill pre-filed in the state House would make it so that buyers are aware of this prior to purchase, a move forestland groups say will help improve communication one of the state’s important industries.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Washington’s population is currently 7.5 million; that is a 53-percent increase from the 4.9 million residents in 1990. In that same 28-year time, King County’s population has grown from 1.5 million residents to more than 2.1 million in 2018, a 45-percent increase. That county also has 16,630 of the state’s 105,000 forest industry jobs, more than any other county.

In a blog post, the Washington Forest Protection Association (WFPA) writes that the “population growth isn’t limited to our largest cities. Suburban and rural areas have also seen increased development pressure, bringing new residents into areas of the state, historically dominated by working forests. This creates the obvious opportunities and risks as forest managers reach out and get to know their new neighbors.”

Introduced by Rep. Kristine Reeves (D-30), House Bill 1011 (HB1011) would amend the state’s real estate disclosure to include language stating that working forests fall under the state’s 2013 Right to Farm Act, which protects land used for agricultural and timber from “nuisance lawsuits.”

“If you move next to a farm you don’t get to sue that farm for just being a farm,” said Jason Callahan, director of government relations for the Washington Forest Protection Association. “You can’t move next to a pig farm and say, ‘I don’t like the smell of pig.’”

The protection also extends to Washington’s 10.8 million acres of working forests, which compose 47 percent of the state’s total forestland. Washington is the second-largest lumber producer in the nation.

Callahan notes the bill wouldn’t change existing law. What it does is make new property owners aware of its prominence in Washington. “Whether you move to Kennewick or Queen Anne, at least you’ve seen that exposure. If they do move next to a working forest, our foresters have a chance to have a conversation with their neighbors.”

WFPA writes that the added disclosure language “puts the concept of working forests in front of every home buyer in the state. For many, it provides a subtle first introduction to a land use that is valued as…an iconic industry of their new home’s past.”

HB1011 is scheduled for a public hearing in the House Committee on Consumer Protection & Business on Jan. 15. There is possible executive action on it that same day.

TJ Martinell is a native Washingtonian and award-winning journalist. Born and raised in Bellevue, he’s been involved in the news industry since working at his high school newspaper.

His investigative reporting for various community newspapers in the Puget Sound region has been recognized by the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association and the Society for Professional Journalists.

A graduate of Eastern Washington University, he has a B.A. in journalism and was the news editor of EWU’s student university newspaper.

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