In a move that streamlines state environmental regulations and maintains protection for fish and fish habitat, timber harvesters working in or across non-fish bearing streams will no longer need to obtain a hydraulic permit from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).
The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission has approved a measure that exempts timber harvesters from obtaining a hydraulic permit for non-fish bearing streams providing a forest practices application with appropriate fish protection measures is approved by the Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
DNR's forest practices rules, upgraded as a result of the landmark Forest and Fish Law, provide for fish and fish habitat protections similar to those in hydraulic permits.
"This is an important step in our ongoing effort to become more efficient in the way we do business and interact with the public while implementing our mandate to protect fish and fish habitat," said WDFW Director Jeff Koenings.
"The commission's action eliminates the need to obtain two permits when one permit will accomplish the same thing," Koenings added. "Fish are protected and regulatory overlap is done away with, which is consistent with good government."
The Commission's action came during the panel's November 5 meeting in Chelan and becomes effective June 1. The action follows changes made in recent years to state forest practices rules that expanded protections for riparian and aquatic resources on state and private forestland as part of the Forest and Fish Report.
Those changes were approved by the state Forest Practices Board following input from private and public stakeholder groups.
Under an agreement between WDFW and DNR, WDFW fisheries and habitat biologists will provide training over the next seven months to DNR staff and landowners. The training will focus on stream-type identification and protective measures for fish and fish habitat resource priorities.
In addition, a compliance-monitoring program will be initiated. The program will be administered by representatives from WDFW, DNR, landowners and the tribes. Reports from the monitoring program will be presented to the Fish and Wildlife Commission after one year, and every two years thereafter.
"The Fish and Wildlife Commission has made it very clear that they intend to review the data and make sure the new fish and fish habitat provisions contained in the forest practices rules are implemented in the manner intended," Koenings said.
WDFW has been charged with administering the state hydraulic law since it was passed by the legislature in 1949 as a tool to protect fish and fish habitat from damage caused by projects in and around natural waterworks. The Department processes about 5,000 hydraulic permits annually.
In recent months, WDFW, guided by recommendations developed by legislatively-appointed, hydraulic permit task force, has been working to improve the permit program. A comprehensive training program has been developed for WDFW biologists to insure the hydraulic code is administered consistently, and permit compliance monitoring procedures have been augmented.
WDFW officials also have initiated surveys to determine and track customer satisfaction levels, and have developed a hydraulic permit database that biologists can access to speed permit processing and information-sharing.