Logging rules timely and just

Regulation often isn’t popular with those being regulated.

Note the objection of timber companies Weyerhaeuser and Sierra Pacific and the Washington Farm Forestry Association on Wednesday to the state Forest Practices Board’s approval of new timber harvest rules. The rules immediately expanded the authority of the state Department of Natural Resources to require landowners to provide more geotechnical information when planning timber harvests on potentially unstable land, as Herald Writer Jerry Cornfield reported Wednesday.

The process to rewrite the rules followed the March 22 landslide near Oso that killed 43 people. A report in July blamed heavy rain and previous landslides among the factors that caused the slide along the North Fork of the Stillaguamish River. There has been no official ruling that previous logging in the area of the slide was a contributing factor, but timber harvest is a concern on potentially unstable grades because it can cause more water to be absorbed and increase the soils’ instability and the likelihood of slides.

While a spokesman for the Washington Farm Forestry Association said a review of the rules was “well-intentioned,” the association’s Ken Miller said at an Olympia hearing prior to the Forest Practices Board’s decision that the process had been rushed and was an “overreaction” to the Oso tragedy and would create a disincentive for private forestland owners to harvest timber.

No doubt there will be some owners of private forestlands who will find the new requirements for additional data to be too expensive or time-consuming to make harvest of timber on some lands feasible. But ownership of property isn’t a guarantee of income and it comes with an implied contract for responsible use. There are other options for land that is deemed inappropriate for logging, including application for conservation easements that would cut the property taxes for land taken out of resource production.

In late October, 10 families, representing 14 of those who died in the Oso landslide, filed suit in King County Superior Court against Snohomish County, the state and an owner of forestland who had logged in the area, citing a failure to recognize dangers and take steps to protect lives and property, as Herald Writers Scott North and Rikki King reported on Oct. 27.

Simply put: The decision by the Forest Practices Board was neither rushed nor an “overreaction.” The rule changes seeking more information before ruling on a logging permit represent the state taking reasoned steps to promote resource production while protecting public safety.

At the same public hearing where the new rules were called an over-reaction, another industry group, the Washington Forest Protection Association, which promotes sustainable forestry, suggested the board consider the rule changes in the interim, so amendments can be made as may be necessary before they are made final in August. The board agreed.

Even so, the association’s Karen Terwilliger, said it was time to act.

“We understand the importance of dealing with this issue now,” she said.

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