Government, tribal and non-federal timber owners celebrate historic 1999 passage of Forest & Fish Law

 

This week, Washington state celebrates the historic, impactful, science-based 20th anniversary of the Forest & Fish Law, a collaboration of federal, state, tribal, county governments and private forest landowners that led to the protection of 60,000 miles of streams running through 9.3 million acres of forestland.

 

The annual gathering of the Salmon Recovery Conference will bring together about 800 attendees, 200 presenters and more than 50 exhibitors (including the Washington Forest Protection Association). They will share information about past success and future endeavors in improving salmon recovery in Washington state at the Greater Tacoma Convention Center April 8-9.

 

In the late 1990s, five partners of the Forest & Fish Law worked together for 18 months to form best forest practices rules to protect clean water. In April of 1999, forestry representatives offered their solutions. It was passed by a near supermajority in the state Legislature and signed into law in June 1999 by then Gov. Gary Locke (who is one of the speakers at this week’s conference).

 

It was part of the statewide Salmon Recovery Plan and the bedrock of a 50-year Habitat Conservation Plan that in 2006 was endorsed by the federal government.

 

The timber industry participants at the celebration this week in Tacoma should be proud as they have met those goals. It has come at a real cost to the timber industry in $314 million in road maintenance and abandonment efforts, which have removed 7,900 stream blockages and the opening of 5,200 miles of fish habitat on non-federal forest lands. The efforts also reduced sediment to streams by 82 percent and assisted in the set-aside of 2.2 million acres of riparian buffers on state, tribal and private forest streams.

 

“As a co-sponsor of the Forests & Fish Law in 1999 when I was in the state House of Representatives, I am proud to see this long-term vision at work,” said Mark Doumit, executive director of the Washington Forest Protection Association since 2006. “Now 20 years later, forest landowners have reopened 5,200 miles of fish habitat by removing 7,900 barriers, and improved their road systems to prevent road runoff from reaching streams — it’s quite an accomplishment.”

 

Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee is expected this week to sign a resolution honoring the 20th anniversary of the Forest & Fish Law. In his draft resolution, he states, “forest landowners have made real progress for protecting fish habitat and water quality on their lands,” adding the success of the Forest & Fish Law comes from a cooperative decision-making process. He called it “a better way of doing business than contention and conflict.”

 

Simply stated, the agreement 20 years ago kept the parties out of the courts and allowed them to move forward in protecting salmon habitat as opposed to years of court rulings, court decision appeals and unnecessary delays. 

 

“I’m encouraged that 20 years after passage of the Salmon Recovery Act, our commitment to recover Washington’s wild salmon runs is just as strong today, with growing public support in also protecting our at-risk orcas. We’re proud to partner with the Recreation and Conservation Office in this conference and applaud their leadership,” said Maia Bellon, director of the Washington Department of Ecology.

 

The Salmon Recovery Conference this week will bring together scientists, experts, interested citizens and the partners working together on salmon recovery, including timber industry representatives.

 

“By bringing together our state’s field biologists, engineers and policymakers, we’re providing a forum for information sharing and networking that’s critical to finding solutions to some of the big problems facing salmon recovery,” said Kaleen Cottingham, director of the Recreation and Conservation Office, home to the Salmon Recovery Funding Board. “It’s going to take innovation and collaboration to build up salmon to sustainable levels so they can support our environment, our economy and those who rely on them, including our beloved southern resident orca whales.”

 

“Recovering salmon is perhaps the single most important conservation issue in Washington,” said Kelly Susewind, director of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. “The plight of the southern resident orca has highlighted the key role that salmon play in the environment, and it’s encouraging to see so many partners coming to the table with new energy and greater determination. There’s a lot that this agency and others can do to support salmon recovery, and we’re actively participating to ensure that our expertise and willingness to collaborate is helping to turn the dial in a positive direction.”

 

The collaboration 20 years ago by federal, state, tribal, county and non-federal private timber owners has shown the way forward in coming years.

 

The conference is co-hosted by the Washington State Salmon Recovery Funding Board, Washington Department of Ecology and its Office of the Chehalis Basin and Office of Columbia River, and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

 

Created by the Legislature in 1999, the Salmon Recovery Funding Board provides grants to projects that restore and protect salmon habitat across the state. 

 

The conference brings together people involved with salmon recovery for information sharing and networking about the 4 H’s of salmon recovery: habitat, hydropower, hatcheries and harvest. The conference is an opportunity to share best practices, improve recovery plan implementation and review, and learn how others are adapting project designs given new or emerging data and information. 

 

Since 2007, the conference has evolved from examining lessons learned to achieving a broader goal of messaging and problem solving about salmon recovery. The conference began as a place to discuss on-the-ground salmon recovery projects and how to implement them better. The conference has grown, and now also includes recent research and policy discussions about salmon recovery and how salmon recovery benefits human society. 

 

In developing the Forest & Fish Law in 1999, it started with an acknowledgement of a change in forestry practices.

“All participants recognize that the goals of Washington’s statewide Salmon Recovery Strategy cannot be met by contributions from any single sector of the economy,” stated original documents from 20 years ago. “The authors of this report agree to support efforts to secure comparable contributions from all sectors of Washington state and to do so in a way which equitably apportions the additional burdens and costs associated with recovering salmon, bull trout and other aquatic and riparian species among these sectors.”

 

— Sources: Washington Forest Protection Association, Office of Gov. Jay Inslee, Washington State Recreation and Conservation Office

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