Bill to raise fee for private forest owners goes to governor

February 20, 2019

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Legislation that will for the first time in 16 years raise the assessment private forest owners pay the state to make sure logging is done in a sustainable way and in compliance with Idaho laws headed to Gov. Brad Little on Wednesday.

The Senate voted 28-7 to approve the legislation put forward by the Idaho Department of Lands. It has already cleared the House.

Department officials say the state is close to running out of money for activities involving the state’s Forest Practices Act.

The act is a law created in 1974 intended to promote active forest management and allows the state to offer landowners assistance programs and logging consultation involving best practices for water quality and reforestation. It also includes the state’s shade rule, which is intended to keep trees near streams to provide shade and cooler water temperatures for aquatic organisms.

Specifically, the state is asking lawmakers to raise the cap on the assessment, which is set in Idaho code, from 10 cents to 20 cents per acre (0.4 hectare).

If the cap is raised, state officials say, the Department of Lands later this year will recommend that the five-member Idaho Land Board, comprised of the governor and four other statewide elected officials, raise the assessment to 13 cents an acre.

State officials say economic recovery since 2009 has led to better market conditions and an increase in logging on forest lands inspected under the Forest Practices Act program.

“While funding has remained flat for more than 15 years, expenses have increased substantially during the same period,” Republican Sen. Dan Johnson, who sponsored the bill on the Senate floor, told other senators.

No senators spoke against the bill on the floor, though lawmakers in the House had expressed concerns about raising fees on private landowners.

Republican Sen. Chuck Winder rose to speak about his reasons for voting in favor of the legislation.

“The reason I can support this — and we’re always critical of any kind of fee increases, tax increases — this is one that’s brought by the industry and landowners and therefore this senator votes aye,” he said.

If Little signs the bill into law and raises the cap to 20 cents an acre, and the Land Board boosts the assessment from 10 cents to 13 cents an acre, the FPA program would see an increase of about $150,000 from private landowner assessments and another $30,000 from the state’s forest land.

Combined with additional money from the state’s general fund, state officials say the Forest Practices Act program would have enough money for the next three to five years.