Muzzall bill gives economic boost for habitat preservation

State Sen. Ron Muzzall believes that caring for Washington’s environment is a collaborative effort, needing private landowners to fill in gaps. The state’s Forestry Riparian Easement Program was designed to compensate landowners with small forests for the value of trees unharvested to protect critical habitat.

The Senate today passed Muzzall’s legislation, Senate Bill 5667, which makes significant changes to the program, giving small forest landowners more value for keeping lands forested.

“I’m an active environmentalist and these kinds of programs are effective and voluntary ways to get private landowners more engaged in our state’s conservation efforts,” said Muzzall, R-Oak Harbor. “We need to get our rates up because while the program has seen successes there’s more we can do with the help of private landowners to bolster stewardship of our natural resources.”

Approved unanimously by the state Senate, the proposal would provide 90% of the value of timber, up from 50%. It would also lower lease terms by 10 years and boost compensation for tree slopes with stability problems. Qualifying timber on those lands would see an increase from $50,000 to $150,000.

During public testimony on the legislation, the state Department of Natural Resources, which oversees the program, said participants are only receiving a little more than 60% of the value of their timber.

“We can’t rightly expect to keep these valuable lands in the program if our numbers are so far off,” Muzzall added. “I think we strike the right balance with this proposal so that small forest landowners will continue to support this critical work.”

The proposal now heads to the House of Representatives for consideration.