Forestry Riparian Easement Program

In 1974, the state of Washington began to require forested buffers along streams and rivers to protect water quality and wildlife habitat. The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) was directed to develop Forest Practices Rules that define how forested riparian areas are to be managed. To provide protection over the long term, the riparian forest must be able to regenerate itself.

In 1999, the Washington State Legislature responded to the federal Endangered Species Act listing of several salmonid species by authorizing the Forest Practices Board to adopt rules for salmonid recovery. These rules increased the size of riparian buffers and created further measures to protect water quality and restore salmonid habitat. Recognizing that these rules would have a disproportionate impact on small forest landowners, provisions were included in the legislation to create a Forestry Riparian Easement Program to be managed by the Small Forest Landowner Office. The easement program acknowledges the importance of small forest landowners and the contributions they make to protect wildlife habitat and water quality.

The plant communities that form the transition between land and water comprise a riparian area that is essential to sustaining wildlife habitat and water quality. This interface between land and water is the most biologically diverse part of a watershed’s ecosystem. Salmon runs, bird and animal habitat, flood events, irrigation, timber production and recreational activities are all directly affected by activities in riparian zones.

The Forestry Riparian Easement Program compensates eligible small forest landowners in exchange for a 50-year easement on “qualifying timber.” This is the timber the landowner is required to leave unharvested as a result of forest practices rules protecting Washington’s forests and fish. Landowners cannot cut or remove the qualifying timber during the easement period. The landowner still owns the property and retains full access, but has “leased” the trees and their associated riparian function to the state.

For the full text of the Forestry Riparian Easement Program, see the Washington Administrative Code (WAC), Chapter 222-21, available from the Small Forest Landowner Office.To qualify for the Forestry Riparian Easement Program, you must:

  • Own land as an individual or as part of a partnership, corporation, or other non-governmental legal entity and:
    a. Own one parcel of more than 20 contiguous acres, OR
    b. Own a parcel of less than 20 acres as part of a total ownership of multiple parcels in Washington State that, together, total more than 80 forested acres.
  • Have timber next to a river, stream, lake, pond, wetland or unstable slope that you plan to harvest in the near future. Additionally, the timber harvest adjacent to the riparian area must not be intended to convert the land to a use that is incompatible with growing timber (e.g., real estate development).
  • Have not harvested more than an average of 2 million board feet of timber per year from all of your ownerships in Washington State over the past three years.
  • Allow the state access to the property by foot or vehicle.
  • Own your property free and clear of any liens, mortgages or other legal encumbrances, or obtain a subordination agreement from your mortgage holder.
  • Be willing to enter into a 50-year agreement with the state of Washington.

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Contact Forestry Riparian Easement Program

Contact Forestry Riparian Easement Program

Small Forest Landowner Office
WA Dept of Natural Resources
P.O. Box 47012
Olympia, Washington  98504
Phone: 360.902.1415
Fax: 360.902.1428


Service Area

Statewide Program in:
  • Washington