Timber Companies Follow Old Rules

Monday, August 21st 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — In the battle to save dwindling salmon populations in the West, Washington state's 50-year deal with the timber industry that limited logging near streams was heralded as a momentous victory.

The federal government began using the ``Forest and Fish'' agreement — meant to protect trees shading salmon streams — as a model for other Western states.

Washington Gov. Gary Locke praised it. And the timber industry ran full-page ads trumpeting the ``landmark effort initiated by Washington State's private forest landowners.''

But lost amid the hurrahs was the fact that the law allows timber companies and other landowners to continue logging under old rules for up to two years. And at least some companies are doing just that.

The new rules took effect March 20. In the week before the deadline, the state Department of Natural Resources was flooded with 592 logging applications. The permits slowed to a trickle the next week, when only 55 were submitted.

As long as timber companies submitted applications before the rules took effect, they are free to log under the old rules until those permits expire in two years.

According to an analysis of state records by The Associated Press, about 800,000 acres of Washington forest could still be harvested under the old rules. That's an area about the size of Rhode Island, or 2 percent of Washington's total land area.

The biggest change in the rules is that loggers must leave 20 percent more trees standing beside streams. Salmon need cool, clean water to survive. When trees are cut near streams, runoff can cloud the water and the lack of shade makes the streams too warm for salmon.

Timber companies acknowledge they are cutting some trees under the old regulations, even while they pay for ads praising the new rules.

``It's not perfect,'' said Bill Wilkerson, president of the Forest Protection Association, the timber industry group that paid for the newspaper ads.

But it is legal, as Wilkerson noted: ``The federal agencies never asked us to change the state law allowing the permits to be grandfathered in.''

Wilkerson said many companies are voluntarily implementing the new standards. Other timber managers say the rules are complex and will take time to implement. Environmentalists say gradual change won't save salmon.

``Everyone knows and acknowledges that the old rules harm salmon,'' said Becky Kelley, program coordinator for the Washington Environmental Council. ``For them to be continuing along that path and trying to convince the public that they've changed is very dishonest.''

Creating the rules took two years of negotiations, during which the timber industry complained the rules would be too strict and environmentalists said they wouldn't be strict enough. Similar talks are now taking place in Oregon and California.

Environmentalists eventually dropped out of the Washington negotiations and denounced the final result. But the federal government has tentatively approved the deal.

The new rules are part of a multimillion dollar effort to save salmon from extinction. The West Coast salmon population is just 10 percent of what it was in the 1800s, and 26 runs of Pacific salmon, steelhead and trout are listed as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act.

State Sen. Ken Jacobsen, a key player in the Forest and Fish Act, said he was surprised that timber companies aren't adopting the new regulations quickly.

If companies are continuing to log under the old rules, Jacobsen said, ``They certainly didn't stick with the spirit of Forest and Fish.''


On the Net:

Department of Natural Resources: http://www.wa.gov/dnr/

Washington Forest Protection Association: http://www.forestsandfish.com

Washington Environmental Council: http://www.greenwec.org