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Wednesday, June 7, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM



HCP: now, the hard part

Official federal acknowledgment of Washington's homegrown plan to manage its streams and forests for the next 50 years is a laudable achievement. But there is a catch.

The plan inherently requires as much tenacity and vigilance to succeed as it did to come into being. The Forest Practices Habitat Conservation Plan began as the Salmon Recovery Act, passed in 1999 by the state Legislature with support of Democrats and Republicans. In 2001, the regulations were adopted into the state's forest-practices rules.

A clear, rigorous set of local standards for protecting 9.1 million acres of state forestland and the 60,000 miles of streams that ran through them offered a bonus. Federal approval could provide a half-century of no surprises from the federal government on environmental regulations and the Endangered Species Act.

This week, the process was completed as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and NOAA Fisheries Service accepted the plan, and Gov. Chris Gregoire and Commissioner of Public Lands Doug Sutherland presided over a gathering to celebrate the moment.

Part of the excitement is over the certainty and predictability the plan offers the forest landowners and the forest-products industry. The federal government acknowledges a particular way of doing business and provides legal dispensation for endangered and threatened species displaced or killed by those actions.

Sutherland read a statement by state Rep. Jim Buck, R-Joyce, that captured the work up to this point: "The evolution of Forests and Fish from a report, to an agreement, to a law, to a forest-practices rule, to a federally recognized HCP shows a continuing commitment by Washingtonians to meet the requirements of the Endangered Species Act."

The challenge is to sustain that momentum in monitoring and adapting the plan as government and industry discover what works and does not work to protect forests, salmon and waterways.

Last winter, as the government and commissioner applied for federal approval, Sutherland noted, "This is not a static action. Things do change; we do have ways and procedures to recognize, change and improve the Habitat Conservation Plan."

Good people have to stay alert and be willing to intercede. Many in the environmental community are skeptical of the harvest rules, the application of buffers along waterways, the treatment of logged and unlogged land and the likelihood of vigorous administrative oversight by cash-strapped government agencies.

The answer, and what the public must rely upon, is in the essence of a quote by Gov. Gregoire at Monday's ceremony:

"Leadership demands that we work in common cause for the greater good, and that's what this Forest and Fish plan accomplishes."

The plan must be made to work; it will not happen without vigilance and tenacity of purpose.

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