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Protecting the environment by providing legal services for forest cases of statewide significance

Protecting the environment by providing legal services for forest cases of statewide significance.

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Washington’s Forest Practices Habitat Conservation Plan and Adaptive Management Program

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The Problem

Logging on Washington’s state and private forests over the past century has had a devastating impact on the habitat of endangered salmon and steelhead.  According to federal and state environmental impact statements, almost 80% of Washington’s forested streams and rivers are in “early seral stage,” which means that these streams and rivers have been logged so heavily that they provide no useful habitat for endangered salmon or other fish.           

Two-thirds of Washington's private logging-road systems are in serious disrepair, bleeding sediment into rivers and blocking fish passage in 90% of the state's watersheds.  Streamside logging has resulted in major changes to the type, amount and condition of salmon habitat across the state.

Rainbow Trout with Red Sockeye Salmon, USFWS

The 1999 Forests and Fish Report

Prompted by the Endangered Species Act listings for salmon, steelhead, and bull trout, in April of 1999, forest stakeholders negotiated a document called the “Forests and Fish Report.”  The Report is intended to be a blueprint for forest practices rules that protect forested salmon habitat and serves as the forestry component of statewide salmon recovery.  The Report is both a package of rules for forest practices and a scientifically-based adaptive management program.  The 1999 Legislature adopted the Report and directed the Washington Forest Practices Board to adopt it into rule.  The Board adopted final Report rules in 2001.

The Adaptive Management Program

The Adaptive Management Program component of the Forests and Fish Report was designed to develop scientifically-credible information regarding the conditions and needs of aquatic resources.  The Program implements the original Report prescriptions (technical guidance) to determine whether they are working and makes changes as needed over time, implementation which continues under the 2006 Forest Practices Habitat Conservation Plan.

The Department of Natural Resources oversees the formal Adaptive Management Program, which involves literally dozens of scientists and policy people; its budget is $30 million through 2010.  The Forests and Fish Conservation Caucus, composed of several conservation organizations including WFLC, was formed in 2003 to cooperatively participate in the Program.  Caucus members represent the voice of the conservation community and are represented on the Cooperative Monitoring Evaluation and Research Committee and the Forests and Fish Policy Committee.  Learn more about the Caucus here

Washington's Forest Practices Habitat Conservation Plan

In 2005, the State of Washington applied to the federal agencies (NOAA Fisheries and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service) for approval of a 50-year, 9.1 million acre Forest Practices Habitat Conservation Plan and Incidental Take Permit for logging in areas where water quality and the habitat of endangered fish, such as salmon, steelhead, and bulltrout, will be adversely impacted. 

In June 2006, the Forest Practices HCP and the Incidental Take Permit were approved by federal officials, exempting timber companies and forest landowners from provisions of the Endangered Species Act for 50 years if they follow new state rules to protect salmon when logging.  The Permit is conditioned on compliance with the Forest Practices HCP, which is based on the Forests and Fish Report. 

WFLC's Comments on the Forest Practices Habitat Conservation Plan

In response to Washington State's application for a 50-year permit to take endangered species, WFLC coordinated extensive legal and expert comments on the proposed Forest Practices HCP, Implementation Agreement, and Environmental Impact Statement.  Read the comments submitted by WFLC and expert scientists here.