Private landowners in Washington’s forests understand that the privilege of living and working among some of the state’s beautiful and inspiring natural resources brings with it the responsibility to serve as good stewards of that land and its inhabitants.
That includes making sure that fish that pass through the streams crisscrossing their forest lands have open and healthy habitat in which to thrive. Today, forest landowners are focused on protecting water quality for fish habitat by removing barriers to fish passage, channeling road runoff into the forest floor so that sediment will be filtered out before the water re-enters forest streams and ensuring that runoff from forest roads does not enter the streams.
Along with the state of Washington, forest landowners have set a goal to remove all barriers to fish passage created by forest roads across Washington’s streams by 2021. Here are some of the ways they are making this happen:
1. Long-Term Investments for Fish Habitat
From 2001-2016, the state and forest landowners spent $313 million to protect natural streams by removing fish barriers and limit the impact of forest roads. Private forest landowners contributed approximately two-thirds of that amount. Together, they have removed an impressive 7,300 fish barriers and opened 5,100 miles of fish habitat.
In all, 84 percent of identified barriers have been eliminated, with a goal of 100 percent by 2021. State and private forest landowners expect to spend another $72 million by 2021 to complete their work.
2. Taking a Strategic Approach
Forest landowners have taken a “worst first” approach to repairing the thousands of miles of roads that run through forest lands, tackling projects that affect the most fish habitat first and leaving the least impactful roads for last. With forest landowners’ road improvements made to date, only 11% to 12% of roads have the potential to deliver sediment to the streams.
3. Putting Their Plans in Writing
Large, private landowners have agreed to develop Road Maintenance and Abandonment Plans to upgrade and repair road systems where needed. Already 53,000 miles of roads have been surveyed, with less than 6,500 identified as needing improvement. The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) keeps track of this information, and also ensures that landowners comply with all forestry regulations. In DNR’s latest Compliance Monitoring Report, 98% of all road activities are substantially compliant with approved forest practices applications. WFPA members have a goal of being 100% compliant with all forest practices rules.
4. Including Small Landowners
In order to reduce the burden on small family landowners with less impact on the forest, they face fewer requirements for habitat protection. Small landowners are required to submit checklists of forest practices identifying how they will maintain and improve roads. The Family Forest Fish Passage Program offers assistance to small landowners. Since 2003, family forest owners have submitted nearly 13,000 checklists, removing 385 barriers and reconnecting 910 miles of fish habitat.
5. Embracing New Technologies
The recovery of fish habitat is being fueled in part by the commitment of forest landowners to protect the natural environment and in part by innovations in road building materials and techniques. Sturdier road materials allow landowners to reduce the number of intrusive structures over streams. Others have allowed landowners to replace culverts with small bridges and eco-puncheons – barrels made of eco-friendly materials – that allow fish to pass unimpeded.
Forest landowners have taken a proactive approach to minimizing the impact of forest roads on streams and the fish depending on them to survive and flourish. By planning, surveying and repairing those roads, they have served as protectors of the environment. Their work is not yet done, but they are committed to making Washington state’s forests a beautiful and thriving habitat for all species to enjoy.
For more information about how forest landowners work to protect the environment, visit forestsandfish.com.