Peter Goldmark, Washington’s Commissioner of Public Lands, this week came out in favor of pouring millions of dollars in increased fees into the state’s forest practices program, rather than reforming a program that keeps expanding despite a declining demand for its services.
In a Washington state legislative session that demands innovative solutions and government reform, Goldmark is ignoring the problems in the Department of Natural Resources bureaucracy that he oversees and is instead pushing to raise fees on a timber industry that already devotes more than $100 million a year to environmental stewardship and is in 91 percent compliance on state forest practices.
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.
For perspective on how expensive the forest practices program has become, 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.
While other states, such as Oregon, have found a way to regulate timber activity in a practical and efficient way, Washington’s forest practices permitting process is the most needlessly complex in the nation.
The timber industry has said it wants to be part of the solution in filling the budget gap. But any fee increases must be reasonable and joined by a streamlining of a permitting process.
- The timber industry not only pays its own way but last year alone contributed $130 million in fees, taxes and environmental protection to the state. The industry is one of the state’s leaders in ensuring Washington’s streams, wildlife and other natural resources are protected, and the industry has decades of financial commitment to back it up.
- The forest practice fee is designed to be a small fee to help pay for paperwork, and the timber industry already bears the cost of environmental protection. The language in the 1993 bill that approved the forest practices fees is clear in stating the fees are intended to “assist” in the cost of the permitting process but not pay for the FPA program. The new fees were also described during the legislative process as “a small fee for processing and handling.”
- The timber industry is in 91 percent compliance on state forest practices. Commissioner Goldmark is twisting the numbers to try to portray the industry as out of step with forest practices.
- The state’s forest permitting program needs genuine reform, not more money thrown at it in the form of increased fees. A single state agency, rather than multiple agencies, should oversee the permits, and with existing federal and state habitat protection plans, many forest practices can be reviewed with a notification system, rather than formal permits.