Port Angeles meeting to roll out proposed state 50-year forest plan


PORT ANGELES — Forest owners and timber harvesters can see details of a new state Forest Practices Habitat Conservation Plan on Monday.

Decades in the making, the plan is designed to bring private logging operations into compliance with the Endangered Species Act on 9.1 million acres of forest in Washington and along 60,000 miles of streams, say state officials, timber interests, and some environmentalists.

On the North Olympic Peninsula, it will apply to about 500,000 acres of privately owned timber in the Dosewallips, Dungeness, Elwha, Hoko, Lyre, Queets, Quinault, Skokomish and Sol Duc watersheds

The plan will be shown and discussed Monday from 4 to 7 p.m. upstairs in the Port Angeles CrabHouse Restaurant, 221 N. Lincoln St., Port Angeles.

State Public Lands Commissioner Doug Sutherland last week praised the plan as a way to “help preserve healthy forests and clean streams for our wild salmon and . . . provide jobs and secure the sustainable and responsible management of our forests, now and for future generations.”

The process behind the plan began in the 1970s with passage of the Endangered Species Act.

By 1997, federal and local governments, forest owners and tribes were collaborating on an agreement known as the Forests and Fish Report.

Forests and Fish Act

Based on that, the Legislature passed the Forests and Fish Act two years later.

In 2001, Gov. Gary Locke told Sutherland to secure approval of this plan from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the fisheries division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Sutherland presented the plan to the federal agencies on Feb. 9. It is now in a 90-day public comment period, of which Monday’s meeting is a part.

Among other gatherings across the state are ones set for March 30 at the Sheraton Hotel in Seattle and April 5 at the Gwinwood Christian Conference Grounds in Olympia.

The plan itself is available to view at www.dnr.wa.gov, or by calling Debora Brown-Mungia, 360-902-1448, or Sally Butts, 360-753-5832.

The Forest Practices Habitat Conservation Plan is a “programmatic plan,” according to the Department of Natural Resources, meaning that it covers all private forestlands instead of single landowners with small to moderate holdings.

DNR lands already are under similar regulations.

Protective measures

Protective measures consist of a Riparian (stream bank) Conservation Strategy for surface waters and wetlands, and an Upland Conservation Strategy regarding unstable slopes and road construction, maintenance and abandonment.

The rules are meant to protect chinook, chum and sockeye salmon, steelhead and bull trout, and about 60 other endangered aquatic species.

Key to the plan is “adaptive management,” meaning that if new best-science and best-management practices emerge, they will become part of the regulations.

Sutherland emphasized that the science will undergo peer review before it is adopted.

In other words, the pet theories of neither environmentalists nor loggers easily can become part of the rules.

Almost pleased

Adaptive management pleases environmentalists — up to a point.

Joe Ryan, president of the board of the Washington Environmental Council, said the practice puts science at the heart of the rules.

“We’ve all agreed that when rules are made governing forestry that they be based on science,” he said, speaking of timber interests, government regulators, tribes, environmentalists, and other parties to the forest plan.

When new theories are proposed — or when present practices are challenged — they will be reviewed by a policy committee. It will recommend to a Forest Practices Board which ones should undergo study.

“The theory is that we’ll make adjustments,” Ryan said, “and hopefully reach consensus.”

Sutherland said the studies would be paid for by the federal government, the timber industry, tribes and environmentalists, but Ryan wasn’t entirely satisfied.

“The question is, is can we fund adaptive management, especially concerning water quality,” Ryan said.

“Will we be able to fund the science to make adaptive management work?”

And science is just beginning to study salmon recovery, both Ryan and Sutherland said.

Ryan noted, however, that the timber industry agreed to create buffers above streams, taking acreage out of the harvest to protect water quality. The buffers twice as deep as previous setbacks.

Firms up rules

Randy Johnson, general manager of Green Crow Co. of Port Angeles and past president of the Washington Forest Protection Association, an industry group, said practice was “very expensive” for small forest owners.

The plan’s value, however, is that it makes the rules certain for the timber industry, Johnson said.

Sutherland agreed: “This is a 50-year contract.”

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