The Washington Legislature is debating the future of the Forest Riparian Easement Program (FREP), which compensates small forest landowners for the value of trees they can’t cut down because of regulations. According to this KPLU story, the program was suspended last year because some landowners were apparently abusing the system. The so-called abuse was by property owners that never had any intention of developing the land, like a nonprofit archery range or owners of vacation homes.
The suspension of the program, as well as its current limbo in Olympia, is troubling because it takes away one of the few tools that forest landowners had in the face of encroaching development, especially in such a poor economy. Many property owners are committed to keeping their forests as-is, but with the declining value of the land because of regulations and other financial pressures, some landowners could be forced to sell to developers unless they recieve some other kind of compensation for preserving the land.
Rick Dunning, the head of the Washington Farm Forestry Association, agrees, according to the KPLU story:
Dunning says he’s open to reforms. But he’s dismayed the program has been put on hold. He notes Washington lost 700-thousand acres of timberland to development and other uses between 1978 and 2001. Dunning believes FREP is essential to helping stem that tide. He adds that by cancelling the program the state of Washington is reneging on a promise it made to small forest landowners in 1999 in order to win their support for the Forest and Fish law.
What’s worse, rather than restore the program, the Legislature may create a task force to study it. In the meantime, there could be years of losses of our precious forests while our lawmakers consider whether they should make a decision.
In other news, remember the lawsuit-happy Center for Biological Diversity? They just filed four more lawsuits in Oregon.