State forestry policy in Wash. is dictated by science


This is a big election year, with not just a presidential race but all kinds of critical local and state races as well. Which is why the Northwest office of the Society of American Foresters decided to devote most of the latest issue of its paper, Western Forester, to the upcoming election.

Forestry professionals aren’t consulted nearly as much as they should be on topics like wildfires, drought and forest health, wrote Travis Joseph, President and CEO of the American Forest Resource Council, in the new issue. But that lack of input could be short-lived, Joseph says.

The 2016 election cycle provides an extraordinary opportunity to change this dynamic—at every level of government. Now is the time for foresters and forestry professionals to raise public awareness about our issues, to educate and engage candidates and decision makers on forestry-related policies, and to establish forestry professionals as constructive, solutions-oriented partners.

In Washington State, forest landowners in the ’90s realized they wanted predictability more than anything else in forestry regulations and that it made no sense to fight the timber wars of the past, wrote Cindy Mitchell, Senior Director of Public Affairs for the Washington Forest Protection Association, in another Western Forester story.

One thing that timberland owners and investors covet is regulatory stability, as an investment in planting a new crop of trees might take 40-60 years to mature before harvest and any revenue is realized. As mentioned earlier, Washington forest landowners have worked over the years to develop a stable regulatory environment so science, instead of politics, drives forest management.

In response to (Endangered Species Act) fish listings, (Clean Water Act) impaired streams, and tribal treaty obligations, in 1996 private forest landowners took a proactive approach to define their property rights and environmental responsibilities. Forest landowners worked in collaboration with local, state, and federal natural resource agencies, tribes, and small and large forest landowners to develop a set of forest practices regulations and processes that would meet the requirements of these federal laws, provide the tribes with a harvestable level of salmon, and protect the viability of the timber industry.

The result in Washington was one of the toughest sets of forestry regulations in the country: the landmark Forests & Fish Law, which was implemented 15 years ago, and a 50-year Forest Practices Habitat Conservation Plan, the largest multi-species HCP in the country.

The impact of the regulations has been extraordinary, Mitchell wrote.

Environmental results from 2001 through 2013 include landowners removing 5,641 barriers to fish passage and restoring 3,893 miles of historic fish habitat. This is more than two-thirds of the way to the goal of 100% completion by 2021, which is on track to be accomplished. Large private forest landowners each develop a Road Maintenance and Abandonment Plan (RMAP) to upgrade and repair road systems where needed. A total of 55,482 miles of roads have been inventoried and 8,886 miles of roads identified as “needing improvement.” Based on the (Washington) Department of Natural Resources’ RMAP Accomplishments Report, 3,417 miles of road have been decommissioned and 22,793 miles of road have been improved. This success has been achieved through significant investments by the state and large private landowners of more than $300 million—of which private forest landowners have contributed $170 million for road improvements through 2013. Regulatory certainty has encouraged economic investments in forestry, which provides stable economies, products, and benefits to the public.

In Washington, any changes to state forestry policy are dictated not by political winds but by peer-reviewed science in a process called Adaptive Management, Mitchell said.

Lessons learned from 15 years of experience is that ongoing collaboration between stakeholders and communication with the public and key decision makers is essential to long-term stability of forestry regulations and the assurance that science, not politics, will drive forest management.