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Wash. Forest Bill Would 'Empower' Local Communities

A southern Washington community is managing nearby forestland. (Jeff Hollett/Flickr)
A southern Washington community is managing nearby forestland. (Jeff Hollett/Flickr)
March 21, 2019

OLYMPIA, Wash. – A bill in the Washington State Legislature could give communities more control over local forests.

Senate Bill 5873 would create a community forest pilot program to fund and monitor three projects in the state.

Max Webster, evergreen forest program manager for the Washington Environmental Council, says momentum for these projects has grown as communities have increasingly felt left out of management decisions.

He says as the risk from climate change and past management decisions that have increased wildfires become evident, rural Washingtonians want to have a say in what their future looks like.

"That just has brought up the need for empowering communities to be able to step up a little bit more and take ownership over some of these issues and address them in a way that works best for the long-term sustainability of their communities," he states.

Webster says a recent study found there are 20 community forest projects coming along across the state. The goal after the pilot is for the state to be able to support more projects.

SB 5873 has been approved by the Senate, but a hearing for the bill in the House has yet to be scheduled.

State Sen. Brad Hawkins of East Wenatchee says the goal of the pilot program is to prove that this model works. He says residents in his district requested this bill so that nearby forests could be managed for multiple uses, including recreation and the protection of natural resources.

Hawkins also notes that money raised in these forests would go back to those communities.

"To the extent that there is the responsible harvesting of trees for forest management and there's revenue derived from that, those revenues could go back in to help fund the ongoing operations of implementing the management plan that the locals develop," he states.

One project that has seen success is the Mt. Adams Community Forest.

Jay McLaughlin, executive director of Mt. Adams Resource Stewards, says the project began about 15 years ago while the region was losing jobs and its population.

McLaughlin says the community forest has provided an economic benefit for the area along with allowing locals to guide its management.

"It's been kind of a gap-filler for a lot of local companies that maybe can't sustain year-round work with the limited opportunities that are increasingly the case in their industry and so, here we can put together some pretty thoughtful and widely supported projects to go out there and do forest management activities," he stresses.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - WA