A new proposal in the state legislature to promote urban forestry has some foresters vocalizing the need to fund existing support programs before any other measures compete for limited resources.
At the request of the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR), Assistant Majority Whip Bill Ramos (D-5) is sponsoring HB 2768 with the stated aim being to promote urban forestry through renewed technical assistance..
The bill first cleared the House Committee on Rural Development, Agriculture, & Natural Resources last month before receiving a do pass recommendation on Feb. 11 from the House Appropriations Committee.
“We need technical expertise for those forests to be managed well, (but) I think we would just come with a little bit of the caution,” American Forest Resource Council Government Affairs Heath Heikkila told legislators during a Jan. 28 public hearing. “We just want to make sure that adding new programs…are not going to come at a cost of what they (DNR) need to be doing.”
Under HB 2768, DNR would conduct analyses identifying “needs and opportunities” related to urban forestry and provide technical assistance to local governments, tribes and other public agencies to promote the sector. DNR would also have to conduct two pilot projects, one in eastern Washington and another in western Washington, locating suitable areas for urban forestry.
Proponents see the bill as a way to help the forestry industry while offering environmental benefits such as salmon habitat.
“Trees have great value in urban areas…for quality of life, for noise reduction, for storm water,” Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon (D-34) told colleagues on the House Appropriations Committee. “I think that’s a great thing for our people, as well as for our environment.”
The Nature Conservancy also supports HB 2768. External Affairs Advisor Justin Allegro told legislators at the Jan. 28 public hearing that “as our cities grow, a healthy urban tree canopy can provide a suite of benefits.”
However, others such as small forestland owner Ken Miller question whether new programs should be implemented when the current ones lack funding. Under the 1999 Forest and Fish Law, small forestland disproportionately affected by the law’s logging restrictions were promised technical and financial aid through the Small Forestland Owners Office and the Forest Riparian Easement Program. Yet, both programs have been underfunded by the legislature for years. No funding mechanism is included for DNR’s new tasks outlined in HB 2768.
“We were in line 21 years ago for the technical assistance we still haven’t really got,” Miller said at a Feb. 8 public hearing in the House Appropriations Committee. “We need help making sure that we’re protecting the fish streams, and we also need some technical help to make sure we’re not in steep, non-stable slopes that might create another Oso landslide.”
Rep. Joe Schmick (R-9) made similar comments prior to voting against the bill on Feb. 11. “They (small forestland owners) were promised that there would be planning money for them. The simple fact is that those forestland owners are still waiting. We’re competing for the same dollars, and I am reluctant to want to add another task without more resources.”
HB 2768 has been referred to the Rules Committee for review.