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Protecting the environment by providing legal services for forest cases of statewide significance.

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Washington Environmental Council v. DNR and Weyerhaeuser

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Forest Practices Appeals Board No. 01-007

CLIENTS:  Washington Environmental Council and Wild Fish Conservancy (formerly, Washington Trout)

STATUS:  Forest Practices Appeals Board decision issued April 2002; revision of the Forest Practices Board Manual Section pertaining to the proper delineation of channel migration zones was completed in 2004.

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BACKGROUND

In 2001, we were alerted to a pending forest practices permit where Weyerhaeuser sought to clearcut 70 acres in the floodplain of the Greenwater River in Pierce County.  On behalf of the Washington Environmental Council and the Wild Fish Conservancy, WFLC filed an appeal of Weyerhaeuser’s permit to the Forest Practices Appeals Board. 

Our experts agreed the 70 acres clearly fell within the river’s “channel migration zone” (CMZ).  In the appeal, we argued that the proposed logging was in direct violation of the Forests and Fish Report, which committed to protecting CMZs.  Federal and state resource agencies acknowledge the importance of CMZs for river and habitat function.  See, for example, Washington State Department of Ecology information on CMZs and shoreline management

The Challenge

The method by which the state was delineating CMZs conflicted with the Forests and Fish Report rules because it failed to consider the future location of the river based on trees that would be “recruited” to the river by the more generous Forests and Fish buffers.  This method violated the supposedly “long term” commitment of Forests and Fish to restore riparian habitat.

The Appeals Board’s Ruling

After a week-long trial, the Appeals Board held that the CMZ delineation was fundamentally flawed because the Department of Natural Resources and Weyerhaeuser failed to consider the extent to which the Greenwater River was likely to reoccupy its floodplain over time due to the recruitment of new wood into the river.  As large woody debris reappears, the bed of the river is likely to move up, allowing the river to reoccupy more of its flood plain, which was largely abandoned as a result of heavy logging fifty years ago.  More importantly, the Appeals Board held that the Forest Practices Board Manual failed to properly require consideration of rivers’ “vertical bed movement.”  Read the Appeals Board’s decision.

After the ruling, WFLC filed a petition with the Forest Practices Board requesting the Board to modify its Manual to more accurately implement the Forests and Fish Report.  The Board commissioned technical and policy committees and re-wrote the Manual.  Our expert, Dr. David Montgomery of the University of Washington, believes the new Manual, if faithfully implemented, is much more likely to protect riparian habitat as intended by the Forests and Fish Report. 

Our accomplishment was not only a new Board Manual but re-affirmation of the principle that the Forests and Fish Report is fundamentally a long-term measure to restore riparian areas.  The Department of Natural Resources’ interpretations of Forests and Fish must be based on this guiding principle.