The Rural Technology Initiative ceased operations in 2011. This site is maintained as an archive of works from RTI collaborators from 2000 to 2011 and is no longer updated. RTI's successor and remaining staff can be found at

Search the RTI Website
Click to go to the Precision Forestry Cooperative website
Click to go to the RTI Home page
Click to go to the About RTI page
Click to go to the RTI Projects page
Click to go to the RTI Publications page
Click to go to the RTI Tools page
Click to go to the RTI Geographic Information Systems page
Click to go to the RTI Streaming Video Directory
Click to go to the RTI Training page
Click to go to the RTI Contacts page
Click to go to the RTI Image Archive
Click to go to the RTI Site Map
Click to go to the RTI Links page

Fact Sheet #26
Washington State's Forest Regulations: Family Forest-owners' understanding and opinions

October 2003

By Janean Creighton and David Baumgartner

Save or Print a PDF copy of Fact Sheet #26
Recent harvest restrictions on federal forestlands in the PNW, intended to protect endangered species, have resulted in lower wood harvests on public lands. Since 1987 in Washington, federal timber harvests have declined 95% and state harvests are down 57% (WA-DNR 1999). Non-industrial private forests (NIPF) have been picking up the slack (Baumgartner et al. 2003), supplying 29.3% of the timber harvest in the state on a volume basis (Larsen 2000). In addition to providing raw material for the state's wood products sectors (Blatner et al. 1991; Thorud 2000), NIPFs in WA State provide a variety of public resources that many people enjoy, such as wildlife, timber, non-timber products, recreational opportunities, and clean water (Fox 2000). This paper explores the current knowledge of WA family-forest owners regarding the following state environmental regulations: the Forest Practices Rules, the Forests and Fish Law, and the Road Management and Abandonment Plan; and how those regulations are expected to impact the economic viability and long-term objectives of forest owners in Washington State.
Washington has one of the most comprehensive sets of Forest Practice Rules (FPR) in the United States (WAC 222). The state's 1974 Forest Practice Act (RCW 76.09) was intended to improve environmental conditions by regulating forest practices such as road building, harvesting methods, and the use of chemicals. Over 13 amendments have been made to the Washington Forest Practice Rules; the most recent significant modifications occurred in May 1999 with the passage of the Forest and Fish legislation (ESHB 2091). In August 1999, ESHB 2091 was incorporated into the Forest Practice Act with the development of the Forest Practices Emergency Rules (RCW-75.09.055). These rules target critical fish habitat along 60,000 miles of streams on 10 million acres of non-federal forestlands in Washington, and stipulate wider riparian buffers and restricted timber harvest in outer zones of the riparian area. Regardless of the many policy amendments made during the last 5 years, environmental regulations continue to impact private forests in Washington. In 2002, Washington State University Department of Natural Resource Sciences and the Washington Department of Natural Resources, Small Forest Landowner Office developed a survey of NIPFs in Washington to identify existing landowner knowledge of environmental regulations.
Table 1. Characteristics of respondents very to
                somewhat familiar with and very to somewhat
                unfamiliar with state regulations.
WA Forest Practice rules    
% Respondents
30% (n=274)
70% (n=627)
Median acres owned
64 acres
40 acres
Median length of ownership
30 yrs
22 yrs
State Forests and Fish agreement    
% Respondents
30% (n=272)
70% (n=634)
Median acres owned
58.5 acres
40 acres
Median length of ownership
28 yrs
24 yrs
Road Maintenance and Abandonment Plan    
% Respondents
22% (n=199)
78% (n=685)
Median acres owned
93 acres
40 acres
Median length of ownership
30 yrs
23 yrs
In the survey, landowners were asked to rank their level of familiarity with the regulations (Table 1). Those who were familiar with the regulations were then asked to identify how they are impacted by the regulations and how they perceive the regulations in terms of strictness (Table 2). Note the ownership size and tenure characteristics of the respondents; in all cases larger landowners with longer periods of ownership tended to be more familiar with the regulations included in the survey.

The majority of respondents familiar with the rules expressed concern over the potential for government regulations to restrict their management practices. Increases in land-use regulations driven by environmental statutes and litigation, and the potential impacts on the constitutional rights of landowners, are reinforced by state government regulations that require forest landowners to absorb the costs required to protect endangered salmon. In terms of potential economic limitations, these results suggest that a majority of landowners who are familiar with state regulations believe they are restricted in terms of their ability to meet the management objectives of their forests and potential profitability.
The Road Management and Abandonment Plan (RMAP) statute requires landowners to submit a plan describing how all forest roads used for transportation of forest products will be maintained under the standards of the FPR (Table 1). Of the 22% familiar with the RMAP law, 36% had developed a road maintenance plan for their forest roads. These participants were asked to estimate the costs necessary to complete their RMAP improvements by 2015. Forty-four percent estimated the costs of compliance up to $10,000. Twenty-four percent of respondents estimated $10,000 to 25,000, 4% estimated costs of $25,000 to 50,000, 13% estimated $50,000 to 100,000, and 15% estimated the costs of implementing their RMAP plan would cost more than $100,000. Approximately 50% of the above respondents indicated that they were financially incapable of meeting their RMAP requirements by the year 2015. It should be noted that legislation was passed with the objective of reducing the cost to the landowner through public assistance since this survey was taken.

Regardless of regulation familiarity, a substantial number of respondents expressed concern over the limits placed on their ability to manage their lands (Table 2). This does not seem to arise purely from the potential for economic loss, considering timber does not appear to be an important component of respondent incomes. Rather, the loss of management control and government restrictions placed on private property rights may be more significant.

In Washington State, rural communities are growing; resulting in an increase in new forest landowners with smaller-sized forest parcels replacing the large rural, family-owned tree farms (Creighton and Baumgartner 2002). This study suggests that these new forest owners are different than traditional family forest owners. They appear to be less interested in harvesting timber; they have little or no understanding of state forest regulations, have higher incomes, and are

Table 2. Respondent attitudes concerning the
              strictness of the state regulations and
              subsequent limits to private land
Current regulations in Washington are:
Too strict
About right
Not strict enough
No opinion
Do current regulations restrict ability to manage land?
Greatly restricts
Somewhat restricts
No impact at all
Do current regulations limit ability to profit?
Limits greatly
Limits somewhat
Does not limit at all
employed in a business outside of forestry, or retired unlike the more traditional landowner who has a higher interest in timber management, a better understanding of environmental regulations, and longer ownership tenure. The respondents in this study who are ignorant of the regulations may simply be a reflection of a new, non-utilitarian approach to forest ownership. However, smaller acreage forest owners that either live in urban population centers, or are new to rural communities may not be aware of educational opportunities; an effective approach to reach these new forest owners might be through partnering with traditionally urban associations (Creighton and Baumgartner 2002). Nonetheless, all forest landowners in Washington State need to be made aware of the state and federal environmental regulations that directly affect them. The legislature must be cognizant that passing laws does not necessarily translate into practice change, and that no matter how well intentioned, land-use laws can have unforeseen consequences for family forest owners.


  • Baumgartner, D.M., J.H. Creighton, and K.A. Blatner. 2003. Use and Effectiveness of Washington State's Extension Forest Stewardship Program. Small Scale Forest Economics, Management and Policy 1(2):49-61.
  • Blatner, K.A., D.M. Baumgartner, and L.R. Quackenbush. (1991). NIPF use of landowner assistance and education programs in Washington State. W. J. App. For. 6(4): 90-94.
  • Creighton, J.H. and D..M. Baumgartner (2002). The use of forestry education programs by small-scale family forest landowners in Washington State: Does ownership size make a difference in their educational needs? RTI Fact Sheet # 18. Rural Technology Initiative.
  • Forest and Fish Report ESHP 2091.
  • Forest Practices Act. RCW. 76.09.
  • Forest Practices Emergency Rules RCW-75.09.055.
  • Forest Practices Rules WAC. 222.
  • Fox, S. (2000). A small landowner experience with formal conservation plans. In Proceedings Summit 2000, Washington Private Forests Forum. (ed. J. Agee) Olympia, Washington, University of Washington.
  • Larson, D. (2000). Draft Washington Timber Harvest -1998. Olympia, WA, Washington Department of Natural Resources.
  • Thorud, D.B. (2000). Introductory remarks. In Proceedings Summit 2000, Washington Private Forests Forum. (ed. J. Agee) Olympia, WA, University of Washington.
  • WA-DNR 1999. Washington Timber Harvest Report 1999. Olympia, WA, Washington Department of Natural Resources.

Contacts: For more information contact Janean Creighton or David Baumgartner, Washington State University (509) 335-2877 or /

School of Environmental and Forest Sciences
USDA Forest Service State & Private Forestry
WSU Cooperative Extension
The Rural Technology Home Page is provided by the College of Forest Resources. For more information, please contact the Rural Technology Initiative, University of Washington Box 352100 Seattle, WA 98195, (206) 543-0827. © 2000-2004, University of Washington, Rural Technology Initiative, including all photographs and images unless otherwise noted. To view the privacy policy, click here.
Last Updated 10/13/2022 12:34:28 PM