Forest stakeholders: Science should inform water typing rule

Forest stakeholders: Science should inform water typing rule
Forestry advocates are urging the Forest Practices Board not to rush the process of creating a permanent water typing rule under the Forests and Fish Law. Photo: freepik.com

The state Forest Practices Board for 20 years has been working on a water typing rule that determines where fish habitat protected by state law from timber harvesting begins and ends. The board last week voted to approve a slightly modified version of recommendations from a work group set up earlier this year to help resolve disagreement among stakeholders. At the same time, forestry advocates continue to stress the importance not only of correctly identifying actual fish-bearing streams, but also effectively integrating the rule into the state’s salmon recovery strategy.

“Things are moving forward, it’s just going a little bit slow,” said Washington Forest Protection Association (WFPA) Senior Director of Forest and Environmental Policy Darin Cramer. Cramer is a former Adaptive Management Program Administrator for the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR), where he worked for 20 years.

Although it’s been two decades since the 1999 Forests and Fish Law was enacted by the state legislature without a finalized rule, Cramer says the process shouldn’t be rushed. At the board’s Nov. 13 meeting, he told members one of the reasons they keep having setbacks is because “we’re focused on the timeline rather than substance and good solutions. I think this is going to keep happening if we continue to focus on the timeline.”

“We’re supposed to go do the science first and go to the board,” he told Lens. “In this case, we’re doing it a little bit backwards. The board is moving ahead with rulemaking and then going to do the science work after the fact. That’s been troubling to us for quite some time. We’re still participating and trying to find a place that everyone can agree, in the meantime.”

Among the work group’s recommendations approved by the board is to redo a potential habitat break (PHB) spatial analysis attempted last year by DNR. The analysis helps determines the PHB, and consequently, what timber near streams is restricted from harvesting. Currently, there are three alternative PHBs with different physical characteristic standards.

Another recommendation by the work group was to determine how to apply the rule to eastern Washington, where less scientific data is currently available.

“We want to be very transparent (with) the methodology we’re using (for the analysis), and people will know about it,” DNR Forester Marc Engel told the board at its Nov. 13 meeting.

At the same time, Cramer believes the existing science doesn’t justify moving the demarcation points for protected watersheds “in any significant way” as some stakeholders advocate. “We don’t want the board to be making arbitrary decisions about moving a point…without the good science work first.”

“The agreement 20 years ago with Forests and Fish, with all the stakeholders at the table, was to use science,” said WFPA Senior Director of Public Affairs Cindy Mitchell, as to do otherwise “puts everybody in a pickle.”

Washington Farm Forestry Association (WFFA) member Steve Barnowe-Meyer told the board that “we want to make sure that…as we go forward we’re all looking at the same performance objectives and criteria recommendations.”

Mitchell said the rule must also “fit within the context of the statewide salmon recovery plan across all sectors” and account for the significant financial investment already made by private foresters in removing fish barriers on their land. “We’re about making decisions that matter. Forestry is really doing its part. You cannot put an undue burden on an economy land-use sector and call that ‘fair.’”

The work group is scheduled to report back to the Forest Practices Board next May.

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