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Feds put finishing touch on 50-year timber harvest plan

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Federal wildlife officials gave their blessing Monday to a 50-year forestry plan aimed at saving Washington state's salmon runs while shielding timber companies from costly Endangered Species Act lawsuits.

June 5, 2006

http://archives.seattletimes.nwsource.com/cgi-bin/texis.cgi/web/vortex/display?slug=webforestplan05&date=20060605

By CURT WOODWARD, The Associated Press

OLYMPIA, Wash. – Federal wildlife officials gave their blessing Monday to a 50-year forestry plan aimed at saving Washington state's salmon runs while shielding timber companies from costly Endangered Species Act lawsuits.

The sweeping deal, which covers about 9.3 million acres of private forestland and more than 60,000 miles of streams, is believed the biggest of its kind in the country.

It requires wider buffers of trees along streams and rivers, reduces the amount of logging on unstable slopes, and establishes new rules for logging roads to reduce the amount of sediment runoff.

In return, foresters who follow its provisions are assured by federal fish and wildlife managers that they are not violating endangered species protections for fish and other species.

The blueprint, known formally as a Habitat Conservation Plan, and its organizers were praised by officials from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service.

"I can think of no better hands to place it in," said Bob Lohn, who heads the fisheries service's Northwest regional office in Seattle.

Gov. Chris Gregoire praised the plan's goals of preserving private forests while protecting salmon.

"Their health and their well-being mirror our health and our well-being," Gregoire said.

The plan stems from state legislation approved in 1999 and subsequently adopted as part of the state's forestry regulations. Officials said the process has involved more than a decade of negotiations.

"We're proud to have the guts to stay the course," said Bill Wilkerson, director of the timber industry's Washington Forest Protection Association.

Not everyone was entirely pleased with the outcome.

Ken Miller, a private forester who hosted Monday's signing ceremony on his family's lakeside 40-acre plot thick with evergreens, said smaller private landowners are still worried about the effect of the new regulations.

But by committing to the state's plan, "We're betting on the long term," he said.

Sherry Fox, spokeswoman for the Washington Farm Forestry Association, said small foresters such as Miller are hit harder by the regulations because they can't shift logging away from fish habitat as easily as major landowners.

To help remedy those problems, the association is working with regulators to develop long-term permits that would cover forestry for 15 years rather than the present two years.

Leading environmentalists also are wary of the plan's effectiveness, said Miguel Perez-Gibson, a policy adviser for a collection of conservation groups known as the Forest and Fish Conservation Caucus.

Environmentalists have walked away from the plan in the past, and its promise to adjust forestry practices to protect water and habitat are key to the environmental groups' continued participation.

"We want to make sure that the long-term effects, the cumulative effects are being addressed," Perez-Gibson said. "While this plan is a step in the right direction, we want it to be able to adjust to new biology and new science."

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Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company