Parties amend habitat plan

Forests: Rather than go to court, they work together to improve it

jdodge@theolympian.comJune 13, 2012 

The state, conservation groups and timber industry have agreed on a plan that should make the 50-year habitat conservation plan for state and private forestlands work better.

The settlement agreement averts a legal challenge by conservationists, who said the habitat conservation plan was plagued by lack of funding, spotty compliance and cumbersome decision-making.

The state Department of Natural Resources signed the habitat plan with federal natural resource agencies in 2006 to better protect aquatic species and clean water on 9 million acres of state and private forestlands.

Conservation groups threatened a lawsuit several months ago, knowing they had until the end of May 2012, when the statue of limitations to challenge the habitat plan expired.

Rather than go to court, the parties negotiated amendments to the plan to strengthen funding, beef up scientific research and streamline the decision-making process.

The timber industry disputed claims by conservationists that the habitat plan wasn’t living up to expectations, noted Cindy Mitchell, senior director of public affairs for the Washington Forest Protection Association, a timber industry coalition.

“But we didn’t want to go to court – it’s costly and it ruins relationships,” Mitchell said.

Mitchell said significant environmental restoration work is happening in the woods, even during the recession. For instance, she said, forestland owners removed 1,000 fish passage barriers and restored 900 miles of fish habitat statewide in 2011.

However, deep state budget cuts the past four years have made it difficult to do the forestry science projects and monitoring called for in the habitat conservation plan, said Becky Kelley, campaign director for the Washington Environmental Council.

“Science-based forest management is key to recovering salmon, healthy forests and clean water,” WEC executive director Joan Crooks said in a prepared statement announcing the settlement Tuesday. 360-754-5444

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