Snohomish Basin Forest Ecosystem Services Pilot Project
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Snohomish Basin Forest Ecosystem Services Pilot Project 



Voluntary incentives to conserve forest lands, manage stormwater, and enhance salmon recovery

As the second largest watershed in the Puget Sound basin, the Snohomish River watershed includes the Skykomish, Snoqualmie and Snohomish Rivers. Counties and cities within the watershed already represent some of the most populated areas in the state and are becoming increasingly urban. Accelerated population growth and development in the basin are causes of concern, as forestland conversion road network expansion, water withdrawals, and stormwater runoff from impervious surfaces can greatly affect forest ecosystems.

Sustainably managed forestlands provide a wide range of ecological values.  These values, which are also called “ecosystem services,” include natural regulation of stormwater. Scientific studies show that intact forests play a key role in stabilizing stream flows, thereby helping to reduce downstream flood risks and protect water supplies for drinking, fish and wildlife habitat, and irrigation. 

Given the importance of working forests and the ecosystem services they provide, Snohomish County’s Surface Water Management Division is working with the Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR), Tulalip Tribes, Forterra, and others to develop and implement an innovative payment-based program to maintain and restore forest cover within the Snohomish Basin. 

Under this program, organizations such as Snohomish County (“buyers”) will reward private forest landowners (“sellers”) for implementing actions that may protect or enhance the provisioning of forest ecosystem services.  Potential actions include increasing the amount of time between timber harvests, extinguishing development rights, altering harvest activity in environmentally sensitive areas, and enlarging riparian buffers.

To support market development for forest ecosystem services in the Snohomish River watershed, SWM will lead a pilot project aimed at completing a transaction in the Upper West Fork Woods Creek sub-basin.  The target ecosystem service for this transaction will be absorption of water in forest lands to be gradually released into streams, which helps prevent flooding during extended rainy periods and storm events. The pilot project will benefit local rate payers by contributing to the County’s efforts to prevent flooding and improve water quality in local streams, rivers, and lakes.

          "Conservation will ultimately boil down to rewarding the private landowner who conserves the public interest.” - Aldo Leopold 

Phases of the Snohomish Basin Pilot Project
Phase 1:  Prioritize privately owned parcels based on their importance to stream flows, their risk of conversion to non-forest uses, and budget constraints.  (April-September 2012)
Phase 2: Evaluate current stream flow hydrology to forecast potential effects of varying levels of forest cover protection on peak flows, flood flow duration, and flows that support fish habitat. (August-October 2012)

Phase 3: Explore viable payment-based incentives designed to encourage landowners to adopt forest protection and restoration actions.  Possible incentives include fee simple purchases, conservation easements, forest stewardship plans, and managed harvest agreements. (October-November 2012)

Phase 4: Conduct a buyer-side economic feasibility analysis.  Compare the estimated costs and benefits to Snohomish County (the “buyer”) of various ecosystem services transactions to the costs and benefits of alternative projects that would provide similar results to County ratepayers.  (October-November 2012)

Phase 5: Select the ten highest-priority parcels in the sub-basin and conduct outreach to determine which private forest landowners are interested in participating in the pilot project. (October-December 2012)

Phase 6: Conduct a seller-side economic feasibility analysis.  Determine the amount of compensation a landowner (“seller”) would agree to collect from the County in exchange for a secured commitment to adopt forest cover protection and restoration actions. (December 2012-January 2013)

Phase 7: Target one high-priority parcel for a forest ecosystem services transaction. (December 2012-January 2013)

Phase 8: Formalize the intention of Snohomish County and the landowner to complete the transaction. Produce a summary report and present results for all phases of the pilot project. (January-March 2013)

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