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Washington DNR accepting applications to turn properties into habitats

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(The Center Square) – The Department of Natural Resources is asking Washingtonians to help protect endangered species by selling their property under a program accepting applications through June 30.

The Rivers and Habitat Open Space Program started in 1999 as a way for the state to turn private land into conservation easements. According to the DNR website, it has since helped purchase 26 conservation easements covering over 1,300 acres of habitat.

“The Rivers and Habitat Open Space Program is a great opportunity to get paid for critical habitat and channel migration zones on your property,” said KelliAnne Ricks, DNR Conservation Easement Program Manager, in a news release. “Landowners can get paid for preserving critical forest habitat … [and] riparian habitat near channel migration zones.”

Under the program, landowners can sell or donate eligible property, including its timber rights, in exchange for compensation. However, that amount of money is highly dependent on the amount of available timber, which is only determined after an applicant is approved, according to prior instructions for completing the application.

Even if a landowner only chooses to sell some of their property, compensation still depends on the amount of timber, regardless of whether there is any at all. Thus, leaving every candidate in the dark regarding how much money they are entitled to.

Additionally, state law provides that if the property has no timber, the landowner would only receive compensation for a “portion of the land value component as determined just and equitable by the department.

That “land value component” includes the qualifying acreage multiplied by the value per acre of all commercial forestland in western or eastern Washington, whichever region applies to the purchase.

“DNR prioritizes applications based on ecological value to salmon or other state-listed threatened or endangered species, as well as potential benefits to water quality or connectivity to other protected lands,” according to the news release.

The state allocates funding to the program every two years at the Legislature’s discretion, which DNR then uses over the next biennium. Currently, there is $4.7 million available for purchasing conservation easements during the 2023-2025 biennium.

This application period extends to purchases over the 2025-2027 biennium.