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Washington State seeks to purchase forest conservation easements

Do you own forested property that includes habitat for a threatened or endangered species protected under state forest practices rules? The Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is seeking owners of qualifying forestland interested in selling permanent conservation easements to the state.

The Rivers and Habitat Open Space Program purchases easements from those whose property includes habitat for species protected by the state Forest Practices Act as threatened or endangered, or which have channel migration zones — areas where a river’s active channel meanders. These islands of timber are vital to water quality as well as to species like salmon and steelhead.

“The Rivers and Habitat Open Space Program provides a great opportunity for willing landowners to be compensated for protecting water quality and habitat,” said Stephen Bernath, DNR deputy supervisor for forest practices. “We are looking for parcels that provide the best conservation benefits now and for the future.”

To be considered for an easement purchase, landowners must submit their applications to DNR by 5 p.m., March 21, 2016. Instructions and applications for both the channel migration zone and critical habitat categories are available from the Rivers and Habitat Open Space Program found on the web at www.dnr.wa.gov.

Since 2002, the state of Washington has invested $4.4 million to purchase easements through the program.

Qualifications and priorities

To qualify for a conservation easement purchase through the Rivers and Habitat Open Space Program, a property must be:

Located on forestland with critical habitat for state threatened or endangered species designated by the state Forest Practices Board, or that includes a channel migration zone;
Identified as either “designated forest land” (Chapter 84.33 Revised Code of Washington, RCW) or “current use timber land” (Chapter 84.34 RCW) on county assessor records; and
Free of unacceptable liabilities such as hazardous substances or other site conditions that may jeopardize the fisheries or environmental quality of the site.

Applications will be prioritized for funding based on each property’s unique values, such as:

Ecological value of the habitat;
Quality, biological characteristics, and significance of the habitat;
Connectivity to other protected lands and areas with conservation agreements; and
Viability for conservation management.

The direct link to the Rivers and Habitat Open Space Program web page is: http://www.dnr.wa.gov/programs-and-services/forest-practices/small-forest-landowners/rivers-and-habitat-open-space

Applications accepted into the program are ranked in priority for funding. Landowners who submitted applications, and whose easements were not purchased during the 2013-2015 state budgeting biennium, will be offered the opportunity to be considered again during this funding cycle. The program also accepts donations of conservation easements.

Landowners who wish to learn more about the program may reach Dan Pomerenk, Program Manager, at 360-902-1427 or by email at dan.pomerenk@dnr.wa.gov