Whitman County Gazette - Serving Whitman County since 1877

By Art Swannak
Whitman County Commissioner 

County follows the law about Ewan beavers, trees

 


I am writing in regards to your July 1, 2021, front page article titled "County, Conservation district at odds over Ewan flooding." I will first state the county is not in favor of flooding occurring at Ewan. Our public works and planning departments have attempted to work with Mr. Andrew Wolfe (manager of the Rock Lake Conservation District) and come to a reasonable compromise on the issue of tree removal in a wetland creek area. Mr. Wolfe is quoted as saying "The state statute ought to trump the county ordinance." However what is not mentioned by Mr. Wolfe is that the county critical area ordinance exists because a state statute requires it.

The Growth Management Act requires all counties to plan for and regulate critical areas, which include wetlands, aquifer recharge areas, fish and wildlife habitat conservation areas, frequently flooded areas, and geologically hazardous areas. The county planner Mr. Alan Thomson checks first to see if an area with a proposed project is listed under the National Wetlands Inventory (NWI) map. Next he checks to see if it is classified as a Farmed Wetland or Prior Converted Cropland (usually with the Farm Service Agency) as those aren't regulated the critical area ordinance. If it doesn't qualify for that exemption, it must be regulated under the county's critical areas ordinance. Mr. Thomson is required to follow the NWI map or have written confirmation from a qualified authority that the area is not a regulated wetland.

If you've been to Ewan, you'll notice there is a former church near the highway that is now lived in and no farming has occurred between it and the creek. It'd be tough to say that is a farmed wetland. Some other areas within the community do have farming adjacent to the trees and creek and might be reclassified as a farmed wetland, but that hasn't been proven yet. And the state also regulates these areas through the Department of Ecology (DOE) and the Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). Both have to be satisfied that the area is either not a wetland or not under their regulatory authority, but Washington State has authority over all waters in the state, so it is in their authority.

The county thought they had an agreement with the conservation district (Mr. Wolfe), WDFW, DOE, and the landowners that 25% of the trees could be removed to decrease beaver dams, the area monitored to see if this decreased the problem enough to get by, and if not then more thinning could occur over the next few years. The county also required a cleanout plan for the downstream drainage area as there is very little drop in elevation for several miles, which contributes to slow water flow and silting issues in Ewan. Mr. Wolfe last came back to Mr. Thomson with a plan to remove all the trees and a claim we didn't have the authority to stop this action.

We'll continue to work with Mr. Wolfe and our local conservation districts. They are valuable partners in protecting and conserving our natural resources. At the same time we have no choice but to follow state law. We've proposed more ideas but currently Mr. Wolfe hasn't proposed a plan other than complete tree removal. At this time we don't believe we can legally approve that action.

 

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