Lowry signs legislation to encourage timber conservation plans

TACOMA - A local landowner who has already developed an approved plan for protecting federally endangered species will get a little more protection from additional regulation as a result of legislation signed into law today by Gov. Mike Lowry.

Under House Bill 2444, landowners whose forest practices are consistent with an approved Habitat Conservation Plan under the federal Endangered Species Act are exempt from further rules and policies of the state Forest Practices Act as long as those forest practices affect species covered by the plan.

So far, the plan drafted by the Murray Pacific Corp. is the only one in Washington to have been granted both state and federal approval. Murray Pacific has already developed a multi-species Habitat Conservation Plan covering 70,000 to 100,000 acres of forest land.

Habitat Conservation Plans, or HCPs, permit a landowner to harvest trees over the length of the agreement (typically 50-100 years) without fear of being prosecuted under the Endangered Species Act. Lowry said HCPs are a mutually beneficial concept that offer landowners some assurance of certainty regarding how much timber they can harvest, while also ensuring that federally listed species are protected over the long term.

In a ceremony at Murray Pacific headquarters in Tacoma, the governor said the new law is aimed at rewarding landowners who take the lead in conscientious forest practices with the promise of a more streamlined regulatory process.

"Habitat Conservation Plans are the wave of the future," Lowry said. "Without question, the dual goals of preserving our state's valuable timber industry and promoting sound logging practices are best addressed by those in the field; those who will ultimately have to abide by those plans."

The new law does not exempt forest practices from state or federal environmental protections. Also, the state Department of Natural Resources and federal regulators must be notified before the company engages in forest practice activities.

The governor said he is hopeful the new law will spur other landowners to develop Habitat Conservation Plans. He said that similar legislation benefiting additional companies could be considered during the next legislative session.

HB 2444 takes effect immediately.

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For more information, contact the Governor's Communications Office at 360-753-6790.