Washington Forest Protection Association (WFPA): Policy Actions 1908-2008

  • By Phil Dougherty
  • Posted 9/28/2008
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 8790

The Washington Forest Protection Association (WFPA) was established on April 6, 1908, and celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2008. For its first 50 years the association was known as the Washington Forest Fire Association (WFFA). In 1958, the WFFA reincorporated and became the Washington Forest Protection Association (WFPA). This essay discusses policy positions and actions taken by the association during its first 100 years, and tracks its development from a fire protection organization into a political organization that deals legislatively and administratively with environmental and economic issues affecting its members. The essay focuses on the policy positions and actions taken by the WFPA since its evolution into a political organization in the 1970s, and highlights the 1987 Timber Fish Wildlife (TFW) Agreement and its significance in providing a new and improved collaborative approach to resolving forest management issues.

Fighting the Fire Demon   

In September 1902 the Yacolt Burn, the largest forest fire in recorded state history to that point, burned more than 370 square miles of timber worth up to $30 million in 1902 dollars (more than $600 million in 2008 dollars). This disaster resulted in the first organized efforts to establish fire protection in the state. Early in 1908 leaders in the timber business, including George S. Long (1853-1930), General Manager of Weyerhaeuser Timber Company, mailed 800 letters to timberland owners inviting them to form a voluntary association to suppress forest fires. Twenty-two companies responded and incorporated the Washington Forest Fire Association (WFFA) on April 6, 1908. The five incorporators of the WFFA were George Long of the Weyerhaeuser Timber Company, E.G. Ames of the Puget Mill Company (now Pope and Talbot), Michael Earles of Puget Sound Mills and Timber Company, T. Jerome of the Merrill & Ring Lumber Company, and D.P. Simons Jr., who became the first chief fire warden of the WFFA. The association’s first office was located in the Colman building on 1st Avenue in Seattle, and George Long was the WFFA’s first president, serving in this position until March 1930. Chief Fire Warden Simons organized a force of 75 men, each of whom was equipped with an axe, a planter's hoe, and a 10-quart water bag (for the fire crew). Seven fire districts were established, stretching east from the coast to the Cascades, and north from the Columbia River to the Canadian border.

In the early years the WFFA policy was simple: Fire was the enemy, a demonic foe (newspaper articles in the early twentieth century often referred to wildfires as “the fire demon”) to be defeated at all costs. This sentiment grew even stronger after the devastating 1910 fire season, which destroyed three million acres of land and killed 85 people in Idaho and Montana. In 1911 Washington’s state legislature enacted a new fire law making prevention of forest fires a first priority and suppression of fires next in priority.  The new law gave the Fire Warden more authority to put men in the field, and the WFFA fire patrol grew to 10 inspectors and 90 rangers, patrolling nearly 2.7 million acres of land in Western Washington. 

In 1911 the WFFA began issuing permits for slash burning (disposal of wood remnants left over after logging), and in May 1913 began a system of logging-camp inspections designed to educate loggers and owners on how to reduce the risk of fire. This was considered a considerable intrusion by the loggers. William “Billy” Entwistle went to work for the WFFA in June 1908, and described their reaction years later in a letter dictated to his wife: “The first three or four years we were a bunch of outlaws, as far as the every day loggers were concerned. Part of our duties were to try to get the loggers to install spark arresters and other protective measures to prevent fires. We were considered trespassers and dispised [sic].  We weren’t wanted anywhere.” But the inspections served a second purpose: to identify and map where logging operations were being conducted, which enabled rangers to more effectively patrol for fires. Here the WFFA was more successful.   

Forest Patrol Law and Other Early Legislation

By 1915 the WFFA was calling for a compulsory fire patrol law in Washington state, similar to one already in force in Oregon, complaining in its annual report that year that more than a million acres in Washington state were being patrolled for free. The State Forest Commission and State Forester joined in the call, and in 1917 the Legislature enacted the Forest Patrol Law, which required forest landowners to provide fire protection against the spread of fire. Owners unable or unwilling to do so received protection from the WFFA and were assessed 2 cents an acre by the State Forester for such protection. Under an agreement between the WFFA and the State Board of Forest Commissioners, the WFFA patrolled some 600,000 acres belonging to non-members that first year.  Forest protection taxes were levied in the autumn following the season for which they applied, and were collected the following year. The program wasn’t as successful as the WFFA had hoped. In his book The Enemy Is Fire!, Charles Cowan (1887-1969), WFFA Chief Fire Warden and Manager from 1927 until 1958, writes that in reality a large number of acres were allowed to revert to counties in lieu of taxes, and the WFFA eventually wrote off a book debt of more than $750,000 in unpaid patrol costs.   

By the early 1920s, the WFFA was already recognizing the value of reforestation of logged-off lands. Argued George Long in the 1921 WFFA Annual Report:  “In almost all cases logged off lands re-seed themselves and this young growth of timber is in the judgment of all foresters well worth saving, especially in areas where the land itself is better adapted to the growth of a new forest than for agricultural purposes. The attention of the public is being called to the necessity for some provision for a future timber supply.” Over the next several years the State purchased several thousand acres of land for reforesting. Other efforts by various parties, including the WFFA and CCC, were made at reforestation during the 1920s and 1930s. These efforts accelerated in the 1940s with large-scale efforts, first with the opening of the 130,000-acre Clemons Tree Farm in Montesano (Grays Harbor County) in 1941, and then with the enactment of Washington state’s first forest-practices act in 1946, which required loggers (including landowners cutting their own trees) to replace trees they harvested.

The WFFA was also involved with other state agencies in the early 1920s with creating proposed legislation to improve forest safety, particularly when it came to logging. After the disastrous 1922 fire season -- one of the worst on record in Western Washington -- it was clear more action was needed. At the second Washington State Forestry Conference in October 1922 (between the 1920s and 1960s, this was where much of the forestry legislation in the state originated), the WFFA, working with other interested parties, drafted seven recommendations to prevent and fight forest fires, which were presented to the 1923 Legislature. These recommendations included allowing the Supervisor of Forestry the authority to close certain regions and districts to all persons (with the landowner’s consent) during fire season. This also included shutting down logging operations, and of course loggers objected to such a draconian move. No such law was passed in 1923, though more minor regulations (such as screening locomotive engines) were.   

There was another effort made at passing legislation to shut down logging operations in periods of “fire weather” (low humidity, high temperatures) in the 1930s.  On June 1, 1934, Article 10 of the National Lumber Code went into effect. Charles Cowan participated extensively in drafting some of the regulations of the code, which included a provision allowing the State Forester to issue shutdown orders subject to a committee representing the loggers. “Surprisingly, this rule was cheerfully accepted by the vast majority of the operating loggers,” (Cowan, p.75), and though the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the law the following year, the number of logging fires in 1934 and 1935 dropped dramatically, by 75 percent, from their 15-year average, showing the merits of shutting down logging operations during periods of hot, dry weather.

World War II erupted as the 1930s ended, and the United States was drawn into the war with Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. There was a particular fear that Japan would attempt to firebomb Washington state’s forests, starting a fire of enormous proportions and siphoning manpower away from the war effort. (The Japanese did in fact make some attempts late in the war to start such fires using incendiary balloons, but these efforts were unsuccessful.)  In January 1942 all forest-protection agencies, both state and national, met to discuss potential contingencies.   Fire season opened early that year, primarily so WFFA field men could patrol against potential saboteurs.  Emergency fire crews -- mostly high school youths --were set up at federal expense and supervised by the State Forester.

Consolidation and Reorganization 

This spirit of cooperation, at least as it related to the WFFA and the State Division of Forestry, was beginning to deteriorate by the time the war ended in 1945. In April 1947 the State Supervisor of Forestry notified the WFFA that it would be cancelling the annual contract with the WFFA to protect state-assessed lands, which it had entered into since 1917. In 1948 the WFFA entered into a contract with the State in which the State provided the actual patrols on WFFA membership lands.  This was a big change for the WFFA, but not as significant as it might have been a few years earlier, because by this time local fire-fighting associations (such as Rue Creek and Trap Creek) were developing. These smaller associations were interested in having fire-fighting protection directly available within their immediate boundaries in the event of fire rather than having to risk waiting hours for it to arrive from another location. The WFFA provided this protection through agreements negotiated with these associations. Similar agreements with other associations, such as the Rainier Forest Association and Abernathy Forest Association, followed into the 1950s.

In 1957 the Legislature created the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), consolidating the work of several agencies responsible for state and privately owned forestlands and forest practices. And in January 1958 the WFFA reincorporated and became known as the Washington Forest Protection Association, or WFPA.  But no one in 1958 would have foreseen the changes that were just beyond the horizon that would dramatically transform the newly minted WFPA from a fire protection organization into one that would be far more involved in legislative matters and public information projects than its predecessor the WFFA.   

One of the first major changes took place in 1966 when the WFPA reorganized and became a statewide organization. With this change, the WFPA at the end of 1966 represented 61 percent of private forestland in Western Washington, and 33 percent  in Eastern Washington. The reorganization was the result of requests by forest landowners in the state for the WFPA to take on the additional job of determining the consequences of public policies, which during the 1960s were beginning to have an impact on forestlands, and to provide a liaison between WFPA members and the public and governmental agencies in Washington state. This was a prescient step by the WFPA, because a rapid increase in court decisions and environmental laws passed in the 1970s would have an enormous impact on the state’s forest landowners and necessitate a far more activist role by the WFPA in addressing these laws.  

Increasing public awareness of environmental issues on public lands led the WFPA in 1967 to embark on two projects to better inform the public of issues involving forestland management. Explained the 1967 WFPA Annual Report, “The social fabric of our state is undergoing a striking metamorphosis. We are becoming an urban society with an attitude of withdrawal from the land. Our people see thousands of acres of forest ... yet they comprehend few of the problems of forest land management.” The WFFA began providing tours to legislators and sponsoring a monthly luncheon for the Seattle press in which an expert spoke on a timely subject. These tours and luncheons, designed to provide a broad educational background on forest issues, continued into the early 1970s.  

The 1970s: Big Transitions

The early 1970s saw an accelerating series of sweeping state and federal laws which had a tremendous impact on forestlands. Washington’s State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) was enacted in 1971, the federal Clean Water Act was enacted in 1972, and the Endangered Species Act of 1973 the year after that. The result was “a bewildering array of fractionated, uncoordinated regulations administered by…many governmental entities” (1973 WFPA Annual Report, p. 8) and resulted in increasing difficulties for effective forest management.  In an effort to counter the problem, the Legislature passed a new Forest Practices Act in September 1973. Final regulations, scheduled to be in place by January 1975, were delayed until July 1, 1976, due to a myriad of parties battling over a myriad of interests in front of the Forest Practices Board. The WFPA actively represented its members' interests in these hearings, but even when the new regulations were finally enacted, they did not solve the problem. Unhappy shareholders often simply filed a lawsuit challenging decisions made by the Forest Practices Board, and the board’s decisions were sometimes overruled by a court.

The WFPA was also active in forest taxation issues in the early 1970s, which at the time was a topic nearly as hot as the environment. The WFPA advocated replacing the ad-valorem property tax on a growing timber crop then in use with a tax on timber at the time of harvest, and in January 1972 a new tax law took effect which phased out the ad-valorem tax over a period of three years and phased in an excise tax on the value of timber harvested. (In 1984 the WFPA’s Governmental Affairs Committee would be successful in lobbying for a new timber tax bill reducing this excise rate from 6.5 percent to 5 percent between 1985 and 1988.)   

During the 1970s the WFPA recognized that its increasing role in legislative activity made more changes necessary.  The association again reorganized in November 1975 and created five committees -- Forest Management, Forest Taxation, Governmental Affairs, Land Use, and Public Information -- to handle the issues facing the WFPA.  And in order to be closer to Olympia -- the hub of Washington’s state government -- the WFPA opened a branch office in Olympia in January 1975, and in 1978 consolidated its Seattle operations into the Olympia office.

In 1977 Stewart “Stu” Bledsoe (1922-1988) became the WFPA’s executive director.  A particularly effective leader, Bledsoe’s talents were sorely needed throughout the late 1970s and into the 1980s.  Environmental litigation continued. One of the more significant cases was the “2.1 Million Acres Lawsuit,” filed late in 1979 by environmentalists attacking the Department of Natural Resources' environmental impact statement on its forestland management program for the 1980s. Recognizing the impact an adverse ruling would have on private lands in the state, the WFPA (and five other associations) intervened in the suit. The parties reached a settlement in 1982 agreeing to a process allowing the DNR to operate while the environmental impact statements were rewritten. 

By the mid-1980s it seemed that the battles between natural resource agencies, tribes, environmentalists, and forest landowners might never end. Then, in the spring of 1986, Billy Frank of the Nisqually Tribe made a proposal that would change everything: an alternative dispute resolution for forest practices. This led to the Timber Fish Wildlife (TFW) Agreement in 1987. 

Timber Fish Wildlife Agreement

Stu Bledsoe summed up the TFW Agreement's significance this way in his final executive director’s message in 1988: “We’ve been fighting forest practices legislation for decades.  We’ve also been jousting with Indian tribes for decades. An edgy peace is developed with some difficulty, for several years. One day at a not terribly significant meeting, a tribal leader proposes negotiations to resolve major forest practices issues. The result is revolutionary” (1988 WFPA Annual Report, p. 4). 

In July 1986, the Northwest Renewable Resources Center convened a conference in Port Ludlow to consider alternative dispute resolution for forest practices. Representatives of the timber industry, tribes, environmentalists, and governmental agencies gathered to work out a new process. Progress was startlingly positive.  On August 22, 1986, the group asked the Forest Practices Board to delay its new rules until the participants could work out their own plan.  After 60 meetings which stretched out over six months, the Timber Fish Wildlife Agreement was announced on February 17, 1987.    

TFW provided a new and improved way of resolving forest management issues. It represented a spirit of cooperation and a consensus attitude, and provided for collaborative interest-based negotiations for resolving forest-resource conflicts in a forum designed to encourage mutual respect and cooperation. The search for a new way of problem solving was derived from a desire to move away from the previous 14 years of meeting in courtrooms or adversarial public hearings, using data as a weapon to disprove the other side, and also resulted from a new awareness of a common concern for environmental integrity and industry viability in Washington state. The goals of the TFW Agreement were to provide both for the environment and for a healthy forest industry.  Changes in forest practices rules were negotiated among interested parties instead of argued before a commission or a court.

TFW received unanimous approval from both the Legislature and the Forest Practices Board, and in 1988 state and private natural resource managers statewide working with treaty Indian tribes and environmental groups begin implementing TFW. Each logging site was dealt with individually based on the best science at the time (adaptive management), rather than on broad and complex regulations. Both fish-bearing streams and the upland watersheds that supported them were also protected.  The field component of the agreement was handled by the interdisciplinary team, specialists who examined sites and provided answers to technical questions. After permits were issued, the Cooperative Monitoring Evaluation and Research Committee, or CMER (which formed in 1987 as part of TFW), followed up to examine the success of the management plan. TFW became a model for Washington’s private landowners to resolve natural resource issues, and has since greatly influenced environmental problem solving in Washington state and elsewhere.     

Signatories to the TFW Agreement included:

  • Washington Forest Protection Association
  • Washington Farm Industry Association
  • Department of Natural Resources
  • Department of Ecology
  • Department of Labor and Industries
  • Department of Fish and Game
  • Washington Environmental Council
  • Washington Audubon Society
  • Colville Federated Tribes
  • Columbia River Intertribal Fish Commission
  • Georgia Pacific
  • Simpson Timber
  • Weyerhaeuser Company
  • Yakama Tribe
  • Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission
Sadly, Stu Bledsoe, who had played a leading role in the development of TFW, was battling cancer by the late 1980s. He lived long enough to see TFW’s early implementation, but passed away on September 6, 1988.  

Owls, Forests, and Fish

The next big policy challenge for the WFPA arrived in 1990 when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the northern spotted owl as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act, blaming the widespread loss of the owl’s habitat in part to timber harvesting. In 1991 the Department of Natural Resources issued Spotted Owl Memo #3, which set aside large areas of land for owl habitat.  Timber harvest levels were reduced as much as 80 percent across Washington, Oregon, and California.  The WFPA spent considerable time for the next several years hammering out forest-practice rules to provide protected habitat for the spotted owl, while at the same time providing for timber harvesting in areas that did not threaten the owl. New forest-practices rules for the spotted owl took effect in Washington in July 1996.  The rules contained provisions for assessing potential impact to the owls that might result from forest practices on non-federal lands, established “critical habitat state,” provided definitions of suitable spotted owl habitat, and defined key landscapes, called “spotted owl special emphasis areas,” where owl conservation was important.  

In November 1997 formal negotiations began in the TFW forum to develop a state-based plan for improving fish habitat and water-quality protection on private forestland. In the mid-1990s about two dozen stocks of salmon and steelhead were listed as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act, and in 1996 more than 600 polluted water bodies were identified in Washington state (more than half on forestlands), necessitating such a plan.  

After 18 months of intense negotiations in the TFW forum by the WFPA and other interested parties, an agreement was reached which became known as the Forests & Fish Agreement. It passed the Washington Legislature on May 19, 1999, with sizeable majorities in both houses of the Legislature (the vote in the House of Representatives was 67-27; in the Senate, 29-17), and was signed into law by Governor Gary Locke (b. 1950) on June 7, 1999. This was arguably the most significant achievement of resource protection on forestlands created during the 1990s.  The law increased buffers of trees alongside 60,000 miles of streams on 9.3 million acres of state and private forestland, improved road maintenance standards, and increased protection for steep and unstable slopes. Permanent forest practices rules were adopted in 2001.  

A New Century   

As part of its continuing effort to educate the public of the importance of environmental education, the WFPA established the Pacific Education Institute (PEI) in 2003. The Pacific Education Institute is a non-profit organization which promotes using environmental education as the basis for teaching, and supports teachers who are working to incorporate environmental education into the classroom. Using this program, students apply math, science, the arts, and social studies skills to field investigations both outdoors and in their classrooms. 

On June 5, 2006, the Forest Practices Habitat Conservation Plan (FPHCP) (also known as the Forests & Fish HCP) was signed into law by Governor Christine Gregoire (b.1947). This was a milestone in the WFPA’s long-sought goal for regulatory predictability.  The FPHCP is a 50-year contract between the state and the federal government that assures private forestry landowners in Washington state that their practices meet the requirements for aquatic species that are set forth in the Endangered Species Act.  The plan covers 60,000 miles of stream habitat running through more than nine million acres of private and state forestland.  The FPHCP also requires adaptive management to improve forest management decisions and on-the-ground practices, which allows for forest practices rules to change based on peer-reviewed scientific need.  As of the end of 2007, Washington is the only state to have achieved national recognition from the federal government that its state forest-practices system meets the requirements of Endangered Species Act and Clean Water Act.   

By this time the WFPA was approaching its 100th anniversary. Perhaps the biggest (and in some ways ironic) lesson learned in the association’s first 100 years was that fire is not always the enemy. Years of aggressive fire suppression allowed forests to collect underbrush that served as fuel for catastrophic fires.  By the end of the twentieth century, tree density in our national forests was six to 10 times greater than it had been a century earlier. This allowed fires to burn hotter, faster, and cause more destruction than in the past.    

But by the 1960s people were beginning to recognize that fire actually played an important role in a healthy ecosystem. In 1968 the National Park Service began allowing natural fires to burn in some areas and to employ some manager-ignited fires. But this idea was not without controversy, and new policies allowing some fires to burn in certain situations developed slowly amid often contradictory land-use rules, environmental rules, biological information, and public opinion.  Still, now we know that active forest management -- thinning small trees and clearing brush, followed by controlled burning -- not only reduces the risk of a major fire but also restores ecosystem health and improves habitat quality.

 On March 10, 2008, Governor Gregoire issued a proclamation declaring March 11, 2008, as “Washington Forest Protection Association’s 100th Anniversary Celebration.” The proclamation noted the WFPA’s history in leading the way in addressing forest-related natural resource challenges through its collaborative approaches, and cited the 1999 Forests & Fish Agreement as just one example of this success.  One month later, on April 6, 2008, the WFPA reached its centennial -- a far different organization than the original, but one well prepared to take on the challenges of forest management in its new century.

Sources: Charles S. Cowan, The Enemy Is Fire! (Seattle: Superior Publishing Co., 1961), 38, 52-53, 74-75, 91, 97-101, 126;  HistoryLink.org Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, “Forest Fire in Washington State,” “Yacolt Burn, largest forest fire in recorded Washington history to that point, rages from September 11 to September 13, 1902,” “Timber companies organize Washington Forest Fire Association on April 6, 1908,” “Washington Legislature creates the Department of Natural Resources in 1957,” “New forest practices rules take effect on July 1, 1976,” Timber Fish Wildlife Agreement offers new way to manage state forests on August 22, 1986” (by David Wilma),  http://www.historylink.org/ (accessed November 14, 2014); 1908 WFFA Annual Report, p. 6; 1910 WFFA Annual Report, p. 8; 1911 WFFA Annual Report, pp. 6, 8-10; 1913 WFFA Annual Report, pp. 11-12; 1915 WFFA Annual Report, p. 7; 1916 WFFA Annual Report, p. 3; 1917 WFFA Annual Report, pp. 6-7; 1921 WFFA Annual Report, p. 3; 1923 WFFA Annual Report, p. 12; 1924 WFFA Annual Report, p. 11; 1934 WFFA Annual Report, p. 10; 1935 WFFA Annual Report, p. 12; 1942 WFFA Annual Report, p. 7; 1947 WFFA Annual Report, pp. 6, 11; 1948 WFFA Annual Report, p. 8; 1952 WFFA Annual Report, pp. 7-8; 1957 WFFA Annual Report, p. 6; 1966 WFPA Annual Report, pp. 3, 17; 1967 WFPA Annual Report, p. 24; 1970 WFPA Annual Report, pp. 10-11; 1971 WFPA Annual Report, p. 10; 1973 WFPA Annual Report, p. 8; 1975 WFPA Annual Report, pp. 6, 10-11; 1976 WFPA Annual Report, p. 11; 1980 WFPA Annual Report, p. 19; 1982 WFPA Annual Report, p. 23; 1984 WFPA Annual Report, p. 13; 1986 WFPA Annual Report, p. 7; 1987 WFPA Annual Report, p. 2; 1988 WFPA Annual Report, pp. 2-4; 1991 WFPA Annual Report, p. 7; 1998 WFPA Annual Report, pp. 4, 10; 1999 WFPA Annual Report, pp. 4, 6-7; 2001 WFPA Annual Report, p. 4; 2003 WFPA Annual Report, pp. 2-3; 2005 WFPA Annual Report, p. 2; 2006 WFPA Annual Report, p. 2; 2007 WFPA Annual Report; WFPA 100th Anniversary website project, WFPA website accessed September 7, 2008 (http://www.wfpa.org/features/anniversary);  “Final Briefing Report to the Washington State Forest Practices Board regarding Spotted Owl Status and Forest Practices Rules,” Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife website accessed September 7, 2008 (http://www.wdfw.wa.gov/); Pacific Education Institute website accessed September 7, 2008 (http://www.pacificeducationinstitute.org/); Proclamation, “Washington Forest Protection Association 100th Anniversary Celebration,” WFPA website accessed September 8, 2008 (http://www.wfpa.org/resource/news/governors%20proclamation.pdf); Billy Entwistle to Mary Entwistle, n.d., in possession of Washington Forest Protection Association, Olympia, Washington; WFPA brochure (no date): “What Is the Timber Fish Wildlife Agreement?” in possession of Washington Forest Protection Association; “Catastrophic Wildfire: Active forest management reduces the risk,” WFPA brochure (no date), in possession of the Washington Forest Protection Association; Cindy Mitchell, email to Phil Dougherty, July 8, 2008, in possession of Phil Dougherty, Sammamish, Washington.
Note: This essay was emended on October 20, 2011, to correct the identity of the founding members of the WFFA, and updated on November 14, 2014.

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