Forest owners call new plan 'improved and workable'

By STEVE BROWN

Capital Press

CENTRALIA, Wash. -- Several proposed amendments to the state's Forest Riparian Easement Program encountered little opposition from the small forest landowners it affects.

The Forest Practices Board convened public hearings in Spokane on March 27 and in Centralia on March 29, seeking comments on the changes. One person showed up at each meeting, and both had positive things to say.

Ken Miller, a landowner near Olympia, said he fully supports the changes. "(The Department of Natural Resources) developed reasonable changes to FREP. This is a structure that is improved and workable."

FREP was established in 1999 to compensate small forest landowners for the disproportionate impact imposed on them by more stringent timber harvest requirements in riparian areas. Eligible landowners are offered at least half the value of the harvestable timber as compensation for voluntary 50-year conservation easements.

Through 2011, 290 easements have been purchased for about $25 million.

Tom Laurie, with the Department of Ecology, said the rule changes will be considered at the next meeting of the board on May 8.

The proposed changes:

* Nonprofit organization landowners are no longer eligible to receive compensation.

* Landowners with outstanding forest practices violations are not eligible to receive compensation.

* The date for determining the timber value is changed from the date of the forest practices application to the date of easement application.

* Compensation is allowed for qualifying timber on potentially unstable slopes or landforms. Compensation may not exceed $50,000 for any unstable slope area or for any landowner during a biennial funding period.

* A landowner must reimburse the state if the land is sold to a nonqualifying landowner within 10 years of compensation.

* Landowners will be reimbursed for the full cost of their portion of the required geotechnical report.

* The start date of the easement term is the date the FREP application is submitted.

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