Conserving working forests under the stress of population explosion

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The effects of Washington’s booming population over the past decade has been impossible to miss or ignore. By whatever measure you choose, the result is clear: a lot of people have been moving to Washington and will continue to do so. The exploding population has created stress for almost all our systems in the state, including transportation, housing, mental health, social services and the natural systems that provide habitat and sustenance to salmon and orca.

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.

The Legislature is poised to offer some assistance in this area with House Bill 1011.

In 2009, the Right To Farm Act was amended to provide protection for forest landowners against nuisance lawsuits while engaging in standard forest practices. Basically, the law says that someone cannot move in next to a working forest and sue the working forest for simply being a working forest. It is the same protection that was provided to agricultural farms in 1979.

However, the 2009 Legislature forgot one thing. The required real estate disclosure that must be signed by any purchaser of real property in the state notifies a buyer about the Right To Farm Act and the protections it provides to farmers. What’s missing is a reference to how the Right To Farm Act also protects the legal rights of forest landowners.

House Bill 1011 fills this hole. It amends the wording of the state’s real estate disclosure statement to notify a buyer of how the Right To Farm Act protects working forests. More important, it puts the concept of working forests in front of every home buyer in the state, from Seattle to Kennewick and beyond. For many, it provides a subtle first introduction to a land use that is valued as both an iconic industry of their new home’s past, and a vibrant and necessary part of its future. It starts a conversation with the new residents that are inadvertently putting pressure on the natural systems that are protected by working forests and hopefully lays the foundation for forest managers to start healthy relationships with their new neighbors.

Legislative consideration for House Bill 1011 will begin once session commences on January 14th.  You can find your legislator by clicking here.

Appreciation is due to the sponsors of House Bill 1011 for having the foresight to support this legislation that helps working forests continue their vibrancy in the face of population growth. Those sponsors are Rep. Kristine Reeves (D-Federal Way), Rep. Andrew Barkis (R-Lacey), Rep. Christine Kilfuff (D-University Place), and Rep. Brandon Vick (R-Felida).