Forests & Fish Law is celebrated before state lawmakers


It’s not often that advocates get an hour in front of the Washington Legislature to celebrate the success of the historic Forests & Fish Law, but that’s exactly what happened this week. Leaders from the timber industry, environmental community and state, county and tribal governments commemorated the 15th anniversary of one of the toughest sets of environmental regulations in the country. The presentation in front of a joint hearing of the House Agriculture & Natural Resources Committee and the Senate Natural Resources & Parks Committee (video here) was an expanded version of a similar discussion at the Washington Forest Protection Association’s (WFPA) annual meeting two months ago.Speakers included Mark Doumit, executive director of WFPA; Joseph Pavel, Council Vice-Chair and natural resources director for the Skokomish Indian Tribe; Jay Manning, president of the Washington Environmental Council; Joe Stohr, deputy director of the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife; Eric Johnson, executive director of the Washington State Association of Counties; Stephen Bernath, senior policy adviser for the Washington Department of Ecology; Aaron Everett, the Washington state forester; and Ken Miller of the Washington Farm Forestry Association.

The broad cross-section of speakers was no accident, as the Forests & Fish Law only works because a wide range of stakeholders came together for a common goal. Doumit said during the hearing that “these are people who have not always gotten along” but that they united for the new law in 1999 because they knew how important it was to protect fish and maintain clean water.

“It’s a model of collaboration; it is a model of working together that we fully support,” said Manning, from the Washington Environmental Council.

“The (timber) industry voluntarily stepped up (in 1999) to a rigorous set of (environmental) standards, some of the most rigorous in the world,” Manning added. “They should get credit for that and we have tried to give them credit for that.”

Everett, the state forester, said the Forests & Fish Law was “forged in the crucible of some awfully difficult conflicts (such as the spotted owl listing), during perhaps the darkest hours of which key leaders stepped forward to embrace their differences and work in service of a larger cause. Forests & Fish is Washington State’s commitment to salmon protection, conservation and recovery and to meeting Clean Water Act requirements in the forested landscape.”

“A viable forest industry, rural economies, clean water, cultural heritage and healthy salmon runs all depend on sustaining this agreement,” Everett told legislators. “It’s 15 years old – we wanted to check in and let you know and reinforce the importance of what was accomplished. Because fish, as it turns out, they grow on trees.”

The presentation to state lawmakers took on added heft because the Washington Department of Natural Resources is asking the Legislature this session for $5.9 million (a boost from current funding) for 2015-17 to fund the adaptive management program that keeps the science behind the Forests & Fish Law current.

Doumit said the Legislature should “recommit” to the highly successful law, which has led to the creation of 2.6 million acres of stream buffers, as well as the reopening of about 3,800 miles of fish habitat and the clearing of about 5,600 stream blockages. “It’s something we should all be proud of and continue to support.”

According to Manning, the adaptive management program is integral because it allows for a series of investigations in the field to ensure the Forests & Fish Law’s environmental standards are current and effective. And more funding is needed to fully realize the adaptive management program. “The whole (law) is contingent on doing these field investigations in a timely way, getting the answers and then following up in a responsive way,” Manning said.

To watch the whole presentation on the 15-year anniversary of the Forests & Fish Law, go to this video.