The Washington Farm Forestry Association (WFFA) for more than four years has been working with the state on its alternative harvest proposal for small forestland owners included in the 1999 Forests and Fish Law. Now, some WFFA leaders are crying foul over a recent announcement by a policy committee overseeing the plan that it will not evaluate the scientific research included in the proposal. It remains to be seen how the Forest Practices Board (FPB) will respond.
“It was, I think, an end run,” WFFA Executive Director Elaine Oneil told Lens. “I’m seeing people say: ‘No we don’t want to give you a break. We want more of your forest.’”
The setback comes at the same time the state is looking at the economic health of small forestland owners since 1999, when the law was approved by the legislature. The Forests and Fish Law protects fish habitat in forestland by creating buffers around water streams in which logging is prohibited.
Because it was known at the time the law was enacted that it would disproportionately impact small forestland owners, legislators included provisions such as alternative harvest plans and other programs that have since struggled to get proper funding.
Under the WFFA proposal introduced to the FPB in 2015, small forestland owners in western Washington who own more than 20 acres but log irregularly would be able to harvest timber closer to water streams than otherwise permitted; their argument rests on scientific research demonstrating it would not harm fish or water quality. For the past four years, WFFA and the Timber/Fish/Wildlife Policy Committee (TFW) have been working on the science aspect of the harvest plan.
However, at its Oct. 31 meeting TFW announced that the science process was not done correctly and therefore would not be examined as part of the overall proposal, which Oneil said was akin to “evaluating an English literature final essay by looking only at the cover.”
Her frustration, along with that of other foresters, was also shared at a Nov. 13 meeting of the FPB. “Nothing was hidden. The so-called ‘process foul’ was a byproduct of decisions made…with the full awareness of TFW Policy. Our caucus even asked: ‘Are we creating a process foul here?’ and were assured that that was not the case.”
She added that for them to disregard the science would be not only a “kick in the face” but “makes the whole effort a complete waste of five years of effort. The science is the very basis of the proposal.”
Also testifying was Ken Miller, a small forestland owner, WFFA past president and member of TFW’s alternative harvest plan work group. “How would you as small forestland owners feel (at this point)? Would you feel the adaptive management program processes actually respect you as a small forestland owner? Would you still have any hope for a positive outcome?”
While Miller added that he still has hope the proposal will ultimately move forward, a sentiment shared by some FPB members, Oneil told Lens that this latest setback “has not only soured (WFFA) members on the process, it’s soured their heirs. If you’re always viewed as the bad guy, who wants that?”