OLYMPIA - Compliance with rules governing timber harvest and other forestry activities is inadequate and needs to improve, state Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark said Wednesday.
A review of some 427 timber harvests and related activities from August 2006 t h r o u g h July 2008 s h o w e d lapses in compliance for large and small landowners alike, according to a report presented Tuesday to the state Forest Practices Board.
Overall, applicants missed the mark on 21 percent of the road-related activities and 22 percent of the tasks performed along streams and wetlands, according to biologists, foresters and other scientists sent out in the field after harvesting was concluded. In addition:
About one-third of the streams labeled as non-fishbearing might have been home to fish. Fish-bearing streams require more streamside protection and wider buffer zones.
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About 38 percent of the activities taking place near streams and wetlands on parcels of less than 20 acres were out of compliance.
“This is an area of major concern,” Goldmark said of the two-year compliance record, which dates to before Goldmark was elected to the statewide office to oversee the state Department of Natural Resources. “It’s essential that forestry follow the rules in this state.”
Rick Dunning, executive director of the Washington Farm Forestry Association, said small timberland owners sometimes struggle with the rules because they are so complex and hard to interpret on the ground without consultants.
“The lack of compliance comes from confusion; there’s a lot of value judgments made out in the field,” said Cindy Mitchell, communications director for the Washington Forest Protection Association, which represents large timberland owners.
Goldmark called for DNR forest-practices regulators to report back to the board in the months ahead with an action plan to improve compliance.
One proposal would be to beef up field inspections during the application process. But that would require more inspectors at a time when DNR is having to cut staff because of the state budget crisis.
“We may need to raise the forest-practices application fee, which is $50,” Goldmark said.
Small and large timberland owners alike would oppose a fee increase at this time.
“We’re all struggling to make ends meet,” Dunning said.
Goldmark also said he wants the compliance reports completed annually, not every two years, so problem areas can be addressed more quickly when they are discovered.
“This report shows we are not where we want to be,” Goldmark said.
The forest-practices rules were updated by the Legislature in 1999. At the time, they were touted as the most stringent in the country for protecting fish, water and wildlife, and for preventing landslides.