Growing forests of 80 years old or more at a watershed scale is important for providing ample supplies of cool, clean water. Research we are doing with EPA has demonstrated this in the Nisqually, as have studies in the Oregon Cascades.

WEC has been working with the Department of Ecology for the past three years to translate this important understanding into making more funding available to acquire forests at a larger scale and manage them for older trees.

We asked Ecology to change administrative rules for how loans from the Clean Water Act State Revolving Fund work so that watershed level protection is an eligible use. Previous rule language only allowed land acquisitions (including conservation easements) for wetland protection. In addition to doing this, the agency also reduced the interest rate charged on the loan from 60% of market rate to 40%, which currently translates into about 1.5-1.8% annual interest for a 30 year loan (WAC 173-98).

Why is this important? Project proponents (for example, land trusts and community forests in partnership with local governments or Tribes) can get up to a $10 million loan to buy land at a low enough interest rate, where proceeds from ecologically-based commercial thinning could be enough to pay it back. No need for a heavier harvest than the landowners would like, or for being as dependent on getting access to other grant programs or philanthropic monies.

Many of you helped this effort by responding to our requests for comment. WEC members sent in nearly 1,000 letters to Ecology asking for this change! Thank you and thanks to the Department of Ecology for listening and partnering with us.