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Timber industry challenges fee-for-access ordinance

The timber industry filed a lawsuit against Grays Harbor County on Wednesday, challenging the county’s ordinance prohibiting large forest landowners from getting a property tax break if they charge for access.

The lawsuit, filed in Thurston County Superior Court by the Washington Forest Protection Association, Green Diamond Resource Co, Rayonier and the Weyerhaeuser Co., alleges that the county’s new ordinance is in direct conflict with state law. The county ordinance says that timber companies should not be allowed to get a tax break for growing timberland, while at the same time charging hunters and hikers to access that land. The state allows an “open space” designation for forestland, which allows timber companies to get a big discount on their property taxes because the companies are growing timber and eventually pays a harvest tax. The state put the program in place but left it to the counties to determine what should be in the forest management plan that timber companies are required to abide by and the ordinance adopted last month by the county commissioners would prevent fees for access as a condition of opting into the “open space” tax break program.

The county commissioners had been anticipating that the ordinance could be challenged in court.

“Our association and industry enjoys a strong working relationship in timber communities, such as Grays Harbor County and as such, I am disappointed that the recently passed ordinance now requires us to bring legal action against the county,” said Mark Doumit, executive director of the Washington Forest Protection Association, said in a press release. “… As a longtime supporter of county government, it is unfortunate that it has come to this point, but we have no choice except to protect private landowners’ rights by taking legal action.”