Society of American Foresters

Northwest Regions

Forest and Fish Rules in Washington State: Now and Then

By Wade C. Boyd, Jenny (Boyd) Knoth, and David Boyd

David BoydJenny KnothWade Boyd Washington State’s Forest and Fish law (F&F) passed in 1999. This law mandated the creation and implementation of both new rules and a process to scientifically evaluate the efficacy of those rules. These new rules were specifically designed to help a diverse stakeholder group address the requirements of the Clean Water Act (CWA), the Endangered Species Act (ESA), and the Bolt II decision (recognizing the Tribes’ right of comanagement of fish habitat), as well as the interests of forest landowners. The Washington Forest Protection Association (WFPA) describes this law as among the “largest and most comprehensive pieces of environmental legislation in the United States.”

The Forest Practice rules in place before F&F included riparian buffer zones, clear cut size restrictions, green up requirements, unstable slope protections, water quality protections, endangered species rules, cultural resource protections, third-party review, and much more. Washington already had robust forest practices rules in place. What motivated the stakeholders to negotiate the existing Forest and Fish agreement?

ESA listings of several Pacific salmon occurred in 1997 and 1998; during the same period many rivers and streams in Washington were either listed or were identified as candidates for listing under the CWA. Habitat modification—think disturbance of riparian buffers—could be a prohibited “Taking” under the ESA. Designating a stream as “water quality limited” under the Clean Water Act triggers the requirement for a basin-wide assessment of water quality problems, contributing sources and actions needed to restore and protect beneficial uses including allocation of responsibility, which is also known as the Total Maximum Daily Load Process (TMDL).

Members of the stakeholder’s group were well aware of the challenges of TMDLs and of the immediate and draconian impacts of ESA listings that the 1990 listing of the spotted owl resulted in: the shutdown of forest operations and damaging impacts upon the economies and cultures of many rural communities. Restoration of large woody debris in streams and the resultant enhancement of fish habitat was acknowledged as a necessary step in addressing the goal of supporting harvestable levels of fish as addressed by the Bolt II decision. The status quo was not an option.

Forest landowners large and small were and still are committed to doing what is needed to protect fish, wildlife, and water quality while ensuring the stability and predictability of forest practices. The $1,000,000 question was and is: How much is enough? At least in theory the caucuses agreed to a sharing of risk. Forest practices in Washington, for years prior to F&F, were an arena of constant conflict and legal battles between forest landowners and increasingly well-funded and strident elements of the environmental community. The Washington Environmental Council, a strong voice of the environmental community, would not join the negotiations.

Forest and Fish 2021

From an on-the-ground perspective, the changes, while significant, have been mostly in the scope, design, and intensity of activities devised to protect water quality and fish and wildlife habitats. More streams require more complex buffers and protections for connected springs, forested wetlands, and stream initiation points. The rules have led to better management of road runoff and improvements to stream crossings engineered to ensure passage of all fish in all life stages. Most recent changes to the forest practices rules include more focused identification and review of unstable slopes.

Image of riparian area
The Forests & Fish Law passed in 1999 is described by the Washington
Forest Protection Association as "an historic, science-based set of forest
practices regulations that protect 60,000+ miles of streams running 
through 9.3 million acres of state and private forestlands."
Image taken from Google Maps

Landowners immediately stepped up to participate in a Road Management and Abandonment Program (RMAP) that spent hundreds of millions of dollars in up-front, out-ofpocket costs to address fish passage and road management issues. In May 2017, in a Special Board Meeting the Washington’s Commissioner of Public Lands publicly celebrated private landowner efforts, which resulted in over 50,000 miles of forest road upgrades, 6,000 fish passage barriers replaced, and 3,500 stream miles opened up for fish habitat. An additional 2,100 barriers have been removed since that time.

Implementing the new rules has meant more people are involved in field work. Interpreting rules and performing tasks, such as water typing and characterizing unstable landforms, requires increasingly specialized knowledge; sometimes requiring additional certifications or qualifications demanded by state agencies prior to approval of Forest Practices Applications (FPAs).

While the on-the-ground changes have certainly created substantial and significant protections for critical habitat and public resources, some of the most significant changes are the ones you do not see in the woods:

• Over 20 years of stable, predictable forest management operations. • Significant increases in timberland values as retirement and investment funds have recognized F&F for providing opportunities for those wanting more environmentally friendly investments.

• Recognition by landowners of significant reductions in road management costs due to the more robust engineering of roads, ditches, stream crossings, and the impacts of road abandonment efforts. Noticeably these improvements have led to fewer problems during high-intensity storms.

• F&F riparian zone buffers and RMAP requirements put disproportionate hardships on small woodland owners. Programs to address this significant issue have suffered crippling funding shortages and lack of support for development of more straight forward alternate riparian prescriptions.

• Riparian management zones designed to provide an ongoing input of large woody debris are important for maintaining complex stream structure including areas with both pools and ripples.

• Establishment of an innovative Adaptive Management Program designed to address ongoing and emergent issues with existing Forest Practices Regulations.

• Creation and recognition of a more cooperative and inclusive process for managing the complex task of regulating forest practices that meet CWA and ESA requirements. The original Timber Fish and Wildlife (TFW) participation has been expanded to now include voting members from: large and small landowners, Eastside and Westside Tribes, state agencies, the conservation caucus, counties, and federal agencies.

Old Culvert
Through the Road Management and Abandonment
 culvert, have been replaced with structures that allow

Program, over 8,000 fish passage barriers, such as this
 for improved fish passage. Photos courtesy of Mark Ferry


While the Forest and Fish Law created considerable change to forest practices in Washington State in response to the needs of landowners, regulators, Tribes, and concerned citizens, the inherent tensions between environmental groups, regulators, and landowners remain unabated.

W F Wade C. Boyd, PhD, was past president of WFPA, a forester, and retired senior vice president of Timber Longview Fibre Co. A WSSAF Golden member, he can be reached at SAF member Jenny L. (Boyd) Knoth, PhD, is the forest management and policy advisor with PNK Consulting, LLC and current Cooperative Monitoring Evaluation and Research committee cochair. She can be reached at David Boyd is an SAF member and the industrial policy manager with the Associated Oregon Loggers Inc. He can be reached at

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