Scientific Review of the Washington Forests and Fish Report
Events leading to the scientific review
During the 1990s, forest practices changed radically on federal lands throughout the Northwest and salmon species were listed as threatened or endangered across vast tracts of the Oregon and Washington landscape. In Washington, state and county elected officials, interest groups, Indian tribes and landowners recognized the need to rewrite the rules governing forest practices on private lands.
Discussions began in earnest in 1996 on changing the rules. When negotiators were unable to meet their deadlines, the Forest Practices Board recognized the immediacy of concerns for dwindling salmon populations and last May established emergency rules to provide greater environmental review of forest practices in areas with listed fish.
Negotiations continued. In September 1998, organizations representing environmental interests left the talks in protest over the process and content supported by many of the participants. Washington Environmental Council and the National Audubon Society developed a proposal for new rules that would be low-risk for salmon and submitted it to the Board, to be considered along with any proposal that might come from the other parties who were still negotiating.
In February 1999, the timber industry, government agencies and some tribes finally agreed to the proposal called the Forests and Fish Report. Instead of following the established rule change procedure, negotiators chose to employ the legislative process to alter the current rules. They proposed SH 2091 which establishes the Forests and Fish Report as the guiding document for the new rules. This legislation passed into law in May 1999.The legislation states “When adopting permanent rules…the Forest Practices Board is strongly encouraged to follow the recommendations of the Forests and Fish Report.”
Where does the state forest practices board fit in?
Washington’s 11-member Forest Practices Board is the entity responsible for making and updating forest practices rules. Normally the Board conducts a rule-making process which includes development of an Environmental Impact Statement (IS) and public hearings around the state. Under this legislation, the Forest Practices Board can still adopt rule changes that provide greater protection and do so through its normal procedures. The board will, in fact, proceed with the process, evaluating more protective alternatives proposed by environmental groups and the Yakama, Muckleshoot, and Puyallup tribes. Public hearings begin February 4, 2000.
If the Board wishes to adopt rules that are not consistent with the Report, SH 2091 requires they notify the legislature and defer final adoption of rules for 60 days of the legislative session to “provide for additional public involvement and oversight.” SH 2091 also authorizes the Board to adopt parts of the Report as emergency rules, to go into effect in the short term.
State rules provide basis for species recovery
Concurrently, the National Marine Fisheries Service has released its 4(d) rules under the Endangered Species Act and are conducting public hearings prior to their adoption in June, 2000. Section 4(d) of the ESA requires the listing agency to develop regulations that protect the listed species from what the act calls “take” or harm.
The National Marine Fisheries Service has proposed that while most state and local regulations are intended to promote some other activity such as controlling development, maintaining roads or ensuring clean water, with proper safeguards these programs can be tailored to also provide adequate protection for fish.
Furthermore, the federal agencies–National Marine Fisheries Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service–will likely develop the Report into a 50-year Habitat Conservation Plan for all private forest land in Washington. Anyone following state logging rules would be covered in the HCP. The anticipated plan represents a new kind of HCP covering an activity, rather than a particular parcel of land.
Many landowners welcome the Habitat Conservation Plans, because they include “No Surprises” guarantees that limit future changes. Under No Surprises, the government promises they will not require further habitat protection from landowners-except under extreme circumstances, in which case the government has to pay for it.
Obviously a lot is riding on these forest practice rules. There is good reason to see that they provide adequate protection. The Forest and Fish Report includes an adaptive management process that will provide for the Forest Practices Board to change state rules (and thus the HCP) over time according to the results of scientific research. SH 2091 goes one step further, mandating that the Board adopt that adaptive management process, and limiting future rule changes to those that conform to its recommendations.
Review of the Washington Forests and Fish Report and Draft Emergency Forest Practice Rules
Report prepared by independent scientists nominated by the Society for Ecological Restoration – Northwest Chapter and the Western Division of the American Fisheries Society
February 1, 2000
In spring of 1999, it came to the attention of the board and membership of the Society for Ecological Restoration – Northwest Chapter (SER-NW) and the Western Division of the American Fisheries Society (WD AFS), that the Washington Forests and Fish Report might not be based on credible contemporary scientific findings and thus did not adequately address concerns for the survival of fish and wildlife across the state.
It was determined that an independent review of the Report would provide policy makers, negotiators, and stakeholders with a fair and unbiased evaluation of the Report’s likelihood for success in maintaining and restoring populations of Washington’s native species.
SER-NW and WD AFS assembled a nominating committee that would recommend respected experts in disciplines related to aquatic (water based) and terrestrial (land based) ecosystems. Four scientists were recommended by the nominating committee.
SER-NW and WD AFS received financial support for this review from five foundations and two Washington American Indian tribal governments.
The process used to select the review panel was intended to insulate the review process from the political debate over forest management policy. In so doing, they agreed to keep the identity of the reviewers in confidence. This is a standard practice to ensure that an independent review of this nature is insulated from political or other influence.
SER-NW and WD AFS stand by the process by which the review was conducted. Their role was to facilitate a scientifically credible review and to place the highest quality scientific information into the hands of policy makers. Neither are advocacy organizations. They leave to the policy makers the task of developing acceptable and enforceable forest management rule.
The following organizations provided financial support to Society for Ecological Restoration – Northwest Chapter and the Western Division of the American Fisheries Society to conduct a review of Washington’s Forests and Fish Report:
- Horizons Foundation
- Northwest Fund for the Environment
- The Brainerd Foundation
- The Bullitt Foundation
- The Harder Foundation
Additional funding was contributed by:
- Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Indian Nation
- Muckleshoot Indian Nation