We wrote earlier this month about a misguided campaign in Washington to raise forest practice fees on timber companies. State Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark and environmental groups are trying to convince legislators to pour millions of dollars in increased fees into the state’s already bloated forest practices program.
In a year when our Legislature faces a $5 billion deficit, and all signs point to increasing deficits in the future, and when even Gov. Chris Gregoire has advocated for a fundamental streamlining of government operations, environmental groups have the gall to ask for an increase in an inefficient and badly designed government bureaucracy. Our state can’t afford to throw good money after bad, especially when what’s really needed is reform.
On top of all this, the environmental groups are still trying to spread falsehoods about the timber industry’s stance on the forest practice fee issue. Look at what Kerry McHugh of the Washington Environmental Council told the Vancouver Columbian today.
“What industry is saying is, ‘We’ll pay more fees, but that means protections need to be rolled back,” McHugh said. “We can’t support fees that reduce protection…”
What the timber industry is calling for is not less protection at all, but a more efficient permitting system that doesn’t have multiple inspectors from different state agencies doing the exact same thing. This bloated bureaucracy is not good for the environment and it’s not good for a state that is desperately trying to be more efficient and save money.
Even in the current permitting system, the timber industry is in 91 percent compliance on state forest practices. Most of what environmental groups try to claim are compliance issues are deemed by the state to be “trivial or minor.”
The forest industry is one of the state’s leaders in ensuring our streams, wildlife and other natural resources are protected, contributing $130 million a year in fees, taxes and environmental protection, and committing to the 50-year Forests & Fish Habitat Conservation Plan to protect salmon and clean water.
Meanwhile, the state’s forest practices permitting program’s budget has ballooned by 64 percent – to $23 million – while state timber harvest volumes have declined during the same period by 44 percent.
The state of Oregon is the number one timber-producing state in the country and the budget of its forest practices program is only $15 million, 35 percent smaller than Washington’s.
Washington’s forest practices permitting process is the most needlessly complex in the nation, and it’s this government inefficiency that environmental groups want to protect, not the environment and certainly not taxpayers. The time for real reform is now.