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New Forest Practice Rules in Washington State

Brian J. Vrablick, Northwest Management, Inc.

We have all pictured the perfect piece of forest land. Tall trees, scenic vistas, lots of wildlife, and a big creek full of trout flowing right through the middle. Since March 20 of this year, many forest land owners in Washington State are starting to question whether they still want that creek in the middle of their property.

In 1999, the Washington State Legislature directed the Forest Practices Board to adopt new rules that were consistent with the Forests and Fish Report. This report was developed over two years by representatives of federal, state, and local governments, private landowners, and most of Washington’s tribes.

The goals of the new rules are to:

  • Better protect water quality and fish habitat by identifying fish-bearing streams with more stringent criteria and widening protective stream buffer zones;
  • Revise the requirements for locating and designing roads, bridges, and culverts, and for road maintenance and abandonment plans;
  • Increase environmental reviews for logging, road building, and other forest practices proposed on unstable slopes;
  • Exempt small landowners from new streamside rules and allow them to use the previous rules. The exemption applies to parcels of less than 20 contiguous acres that are owned by individuals who own less than 80 forested acres statewide.

The rules are quite variable depending on the specifics of the streams on your property. The physical characteristics of the stream determine whether it will be called fish bearing, not whether it actually has fish or not. On fish bearing streams a 30 foot no harvest core zone is required on each side of the stream.

The bank full width of the stream and the site class of the land determine the width of the buffers on the inner and outer zones. The inner zone can be either 45 feet or 70 feet wide. The outer zone can be anywhere from zero to 55 feet wide.

The habitat type of the site and the basal area of the existing timber determine whether you will be allowed to cut any trees in the inner zone. If you meet the minimum basal area you must leave the 21 largest trees per acre standing and then you may harvest a portion of the remaining trees.

In addition, if you own less than 500 acres in a DNR Region you will be required to turn in a Road Maintenance and Abandonment Plan before you will be approved for a Forest Practices Application. If you own over 500 acres, you have until 2005 to develop your Road Plan.

Northwest Management, Inc. is working with several large and small landowners to meet the requirements of the Forests and Fish Report. Please call if you would like to discuss the details of these new rules and how they may impact your forest land management options.

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