‘Last ditch’ effort for harvest plan consensus

‘Last ditch’ effort for harvest plan consensus
A new technical work group has been formed to examine an alternative harvest plan for certain small forestland owners in Western Washington that was first submitted to the Forest Practices Board five years ago. Photo: freepik.com

It’s been five years since the Washington Farm Forestry Association (WFFA) first submitted its alternative harvest plan to the Forest Practices Board (FPB) as part of the 1999 Forests and Fish Law that would allow certain foresters to log more timber on their land without harming fish habitat.

However, last November that process hit a snag when the Timber, Fish, & Wildlife (TFW) Policy Committee overseeing the plan for eventual recommendation announced it would not consider the scientific research included with the proposal. After protests by forestry members, TFW last week formed a new technical work group composed of field experts from private, state and tribal organizations who will further examine most of the prescriptions for stream buffers contained in the harvest plan.

Ken Miller is a small forestland owner, past president for the Washington Farm Forestry Association and a member of TFW’s alternative harvest plan work group. He told Lens the new technical work group is a “last ditch” effort to reach consensus within TFW before it makes recommendations to the FPB.

“I don’t have a lot of hope,” he said. “But I have a lot of confidence in the people who’ve been selected for those (work group).”

For many small foresters in Western Washington, the November announcement is seen as another failure by the state to uphold its end of the bargain as part of the Forests and Fish law.

That frustration was reflected in letters submitted to FPB following the November announcement. Sumas-based forester Tom Westergreen wrote that the process has “stonewalled” efforts to get the alternative harvest plan approved and “puts private forests at more risk for future generations.”

The 1999 state law was passed to protect salmon habitat – doing so in part through timber harvest restrictions. Even as the bill was written, it was known that small forestland owners would bear a disproportionate regulatory burden due to their locations in lower watersheds where streams are wider.

In addition to creating several technical assistance and financial compensation programs that have never been fully funded, the law also allowed small forestlands to create alternative harvest plans rather than those under the forest practices r .

“The programs we helped create have been a disappointment,” wrote Yacolt-based forester Bob Brink. “Considering the huge environmental and economic impact that small forest landowners have in our state, I am saddened by the seeming lack of…financial consideration given.”

Under WFFA’s proposal, foresters with more than 20 acres but who log irregularly would be able to harvest timber closer to streams than currently allowed, with buffer zones based on stream width. Miller told FPB at its Feb. 12 meeting that outside scientific review “confirmed the relative effectiveness included in our original proposal. We certainly understand this proposal is a huge, uncomfortable paradigm shift for many, but we believe our proposal does no harm and is justified by an objective look at the science conclusions.”

WFFA President Elaine Oneil t FPB at its Feb. 12 meeting the letters from foresters “reflect in many cases the hurt and betrayal some members feel after having dedicated their time energy and effort to realizing the potential and the dream of Forests and Fish (Law). The board will have to make a decision, and I do believe that the personal stories of these people are a critical part of that decision.”

Miller says the new technical work group’s task is focused on how to make the proposed buffers work. However, if consensus still can’t be reached within TFW, majority and minority reports will be made to FPB, and a dispute resolution process could further delay FPB from making a decision until the end of the year—or even longer.

“It’s been five years; let’s get on with this,” Miller said.

The new work group is supposed to submit a recommendation to TFW by May, but Oneil told FPB that is “highly unlikely,” since the working group was just formed. “A lot of them (foresters) are getting up there in years….and you know, they may just sell. That’s not just a problem around Seattle. That’s a problem in Raymond. That’s a problem in Chewelah.”

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