A quiet but important win for Washington's forests
We are now able to talk publicly about an issue we’ve been working on quietly for a while – a new agreement with the state and the timber industry to strengthen the 50-year permit that governs logging on over 9 million acres of private forests in Washington, where most of our state’s logging occurs.
In the late 1990s, a package of rules called “Forests and Fish,” was adopted to improve logging and forest management techniques on these lands. In 2006, these rules became the basis for one of the country’s largest Habitat Conservation Plans; in exchange for environmental protections, it provides a legal “pass” for otherwise illegal harm of threatened salmon.
While the rules were an improvement, they were not as strong as needed to help recover salmon and restore clean water. Regulators and industry acknowledged the risk, and a long list of scientific studies was laid out—with a promise to improve the rules over time. At the time, we were concerned: the rules were risky and there was a built-in incentive for industry to keep the status quo.
This concern was borne out - through a combination of lack of funding, lack of accountability, and a gummed-up decision-making process, it has proven difficult to complete scientific studies and improve the rules. Meanwhile, we were drawing near to a critical legal deadline: the 6-year statute of limitations for challenging the Forests and Fish HCP that expired this year in May.
Legal action was our backstop, but we wanted to see if we could forge a new agreement that would prevent long and costly litigation and bring all parties together to make the plan work better for salmon and clean water. We approached the state and timber industry to try and hammer out a new agreement.
With the deadline of a potential lawsuit hanging over the discussions, we were able to find enough common ground to put together a new agreement. The settlement agreement establishes a renewed commitment by all parties to collaboration, a streamlined decision-making process, a more rigorous schedule for scientific research that will inform needed rule changes over time, and a stronger plan for ensuring that the program is adequately funded.
This success was a collaborative effort, with our partners Conservation Northwest, the Olympic Forest Coalition, and Sierra Club, and excellent legal representation by Peter Goldman and Wyatt Golding of the Washington Forest Law Center. We are grateful to WEC board members Rod Brown and Jay Manning who volunteered a great deal of time and strategic advice.
As executive director Joan Crooks said in the announcement of this agreement, “Now it is up to all of us to make this improved plan work.”
This agreement also allows us to look to a new future for Washington’s forests: how can we use incentives and ecosystem service payments to take management of Washington’s private forests to the next level: storing more carbon, providing better wildlife habitat, and helping to keep our water clean. We are excited to embark on this new forestry advocacy.