Changes to the Forestry Riparian Easement Program (FREP) have been made recently that improve the program for small forest landowners. This program is available for landowners that are managing their forest land for timber production and are interested in being compensated for helping to protect habitat of the Pacific salmon and other aquatic species. Landowners that harvest timber in the State of Washington are required by the Forest Practices Rules to keep a buffer of trees standing near important waters. Through FREP, landowners are eligible for compensation for these trees, identified as “Qualifying Timber,” in exchange for a conservation easement.
These changes to FREP will minimize administrative costs and maximize easement purchases from small forest landowners committed to long-term forestry which will enable increasingly scarce funding for this program to be put to use in the most appropriate situations. Changes include expanding the eligibility criteria to include unstable slopes as Qualifying Timber and adding additional reimbursement items for the cost of identifying Qualifying Timber. The Small Forest Landowner Office (SFLO) is now able to determine the value of the easement for all applications on the waiting list prior to purchasing the easement. Changes also include limiting eligibility to only for-profit landowners and limiting the compensation to $50,000 for landowners with Qualifying Timber located on unstable slopes. Within the first ten years of the easement, if a landowner sells his/her property to a non-small forest landowner, he/she must reimburse the State the entire compensation amount.
The 1999 Legislature established FREP to help offset the diminishing economic viability of small forest landowners due to disproportionate impacts of increased regulatory requirements. Small forest landowners—those who harvest less than two million board feet of timber per year—are eligible to apply to FREP, which is administered by the Small Forest Landowner Office in the Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
DNR is currently taking new FREP applications and there are now 98 applications on the waiting list. For this funding period (fiscal years 2012-2013) there is $1 million dollars available to purchase approximately 10 to 15 easements.
It is estimated that there are 215,000 small forest landowners in the State of Washington that own and manage 3.2 million acres of forestland. To date, the Forestry Riparian Easement Program has purchased conservation easements on more than 4,900 acres of streamside forests adjacent to about 170 miles of streams that flow year round. These streamside forests protect water quality and quantity and fish habitat along these waters. About $25.3 million has been spent to purchase 290 easements throughout the State.