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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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What We Do

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The Washington Forest Law Center is committed to applying the law and the best available science to protect Washington’s 10 million forested acres. We provide free legal services to environmental organizations that are concerned with the protection of Washington's forests.

WFLC began in 1997 as a non-profit law firm dedicated to using our legal and scientific skills to protect Washington’s 10 million acres of irreplaceable forests owned by the state or private landowners. Logging of these forests over the past decades has caused serious harm to fish, wildlife, and scenic resources.

WFLC strives to solve this decades-old problem. Through advocacy, planning and carefully selected legal cases, we pledge to do all we can to improve and protect the health of Washington’s state and private forests and the animals, fish, and plants that depend on them.

From pressure on crucial agencies such as the state Forest Practices Board to the courtroom, our commitment is to ensure that companies and individuals conducting forest practices comply with state and federal laws and the best-known scientific principles. We have never been against responsible, sustainable forestry; on the contrary, we support numerous efforts to promote levels and types of forestry that are good for forests, workers, and the forest products industry.

Our Mission

Today, our aim has expanded beyond litigating individual cases to a broader mission of advocating for forest laws, rules, and policies that protect Washington's forestlands and waters. We also coordinate strategic planning between conservation groups that share our goals.

We envision a future in which forest practices are conducted in a manner and at a scale that is completely consistent with healthy forest ecosystems, diverse wildlife, and clean water.  

Background

Since the first explorers made their way into the Pacific Northwest, Washington’s magnificent forests have been coveted – and cut – for timber.

Today, 53% of our remainingOld Growth Forest, Steve Hillebrand forests are owned and managed by federal agencies. These lands include our world-famous national parks, our national forests, our wilderness areas, tribal lands and Bureau of Land Management lands. In places where logging is permitted, it’s highly regulated by the federal government.

The remaining 47% – about 10 million acres - of Washington forests  are owned by the state, private timber companies, or individuals. These state and private forests are typically lower in elevation than the federal lands, and are home to extremely important fish and wildlife habitat. Several species of threatened or endangered wildlife and fish have their primary habitat on these state and private lands. These forests also offer invaluable scenic beauty and numerous recreational opportunities for which the Northwest is so well known.

Unsustainably high logging on state and private lands has taken, and continues to take, a toll on fish and wildlife resources and scenic beauty. The logging that takes place on these 10 million acres of state and private land requires specialized legal and scientific expertise to ensure that it is sustainable and does not cause further harm to forest ecosystems. The Washington Forest Law Center specializes in legal strategies and advocacy to ensure that logging is both sustainable and protective of these irreplaceable forests.  

What’s Different About State and Private Forests?

Protecting state and private forests is painstaking, difficult and expensive work. At the federal level, we are lucky that there are a number of local and national organizations dedicated to challenging federal timber sales and policies which threaten the public interest. Federal statutes and attorney fee provisions often reward challengers who are successful, making legal representation easier to obtain and afford.

Forest Stream, Eric HarlowBut in contrast, recovering legal fees in cases involving state or private forest practice cases is extremely tough. Anyone who challenges logging or other activities on these lands faces very low fee caps as well as state agencies and private timber companies with vast legal departments more than willing to sue anyone who gets in their way. And even though what happens to these forests can affect the public interest as much as activities on federal lands, economic barriers often prevent all but the most egregious cases from obtaining legal or political representation. Some entity needs to continuously monitor the rules and laws governing forest management.

When necessary in certain cases, the Washington Forest Law Center provides direct legal services to ensure the protection of our natural resources. The majority of our work, however, is working with our partners to strategize and advocate for forest practice rules and polices that prevent the destruction of state and private forests.

 

Who’s Watching the Hen House?

Federal agencies that oversee logging on federal lands engage in an intensive public environmental review process. The federal laws governing logging contain provisions such as streamside buffers to protect fish and well as road-building standards.

These laws are tougher than the laws of any of the states. It’s a different story when it comes to timber harvesting on private lands, which are regulated by little-known Washington agencies the Forest Practices Board and the Department of Natural Resources. The Legislature intended the Board to be made up of a variety of interests so that all points of view are considered when making extremely important decisions. But in practice, the voices speaking out to protect our state forests, waters and wildlife are frequently drowned out by those with a timber industry bias.  

WFLC's Activities in Sister States

Thanks to the decades of hard work by environmental and tribal advocates and because Washington has a relatively progressive timber industry, Washington has more environmentally-protective forest practice regulations than those in her sister states of Oregon and Idaho. This disparity makes it difficult for environmental advocates in Washington to continue to improve Washington's forest practices rules and laws.

map2But this disparity also creates an opportunity and need for WFLC to work with allies in sister states to help them improve their state's forest practice rules.  For these reasons, WFLC has launched a program to work with advocates in Oregon and Idaho on selective cases involving their state's scientifically-inadequate forest practice rules.  WFLC is currently working closely with sister state environmental organizations examining cases involving discharge of logging road sediment, impacts of industrial forestry on threatened or endangered species, and issues arising from the cumulative impact of logging on the environment.

WFLC envisions a three-state region that offers state-of-the-art forestry practices, practices that are both sustainable for industry and the species that depend on them for their essential habitat.

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Questions about the Washington Forest Law Center? Email info@wflc.org