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Natural Resources Division 

Division Description

Overview
Legal Services Provided
Major Issues

Contact:
PO Box 40100
Olympia, WA 98504-0100
E-mail


Overview

The Natural Resources Division is comprised of 12 attorneys and 7 professional staff.  The division represents the Commissioner of Public Lands, Department of Natural Resources (DNR), Board of Natural Resources, Forest Practices Board, and other related boards and committees.

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Legal Services Provided

The division provides a broad spectrum of client advice, dispute resolution and litigation services to DNR, which manages  5.6 million acres of forest, range, commercial, agricultural, conservation and aquatic lands.  Much of this land (3 million acres) is state trust land that provides revenue to help pay for construction of public schools, universities and other state institutions, and county services.  Since 1970, DNR-managed lands have generated more than $7 billion. 

The division also provides legal services to the Forest Practices Board, which adopts rules that establish standards for forest practices such as timber harvest, forest road construction, and forest chemical application, and to DNR as it implements and enforces these rules on approximately 9 million acres of state and privately owned forest lands.  The division supports DNR’s role in regulating surface mine reclamation, suppressing fires on forestland, and removing derelict vessels from state-owned aquatic lands.

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Major Issues

Proprietary Issues:  The division provides client advice and litigation support to DNR in its land management transactions, decisions, and issues.  DNR’s transactions include monthly timber sales as well as purchases, sales, exchanges, and leases of forest lands, commercial properties, agricultural lands, aquatic lands, and sales of geoduck on aquatic lands.  These transactions often raise issues involving the Forest Practices Act, State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA), Growth Management Act, hazardous waste laws, water rights, and the Endangered Species Act.  Attorneys in this division assist DNR in resolving liability issues under the federal CERCLA (Superfund) or the State Model Toxics Control Act. 

The division also assists DNR in programmatic decisions about its land management, including development and implementation of Habitat Conservation Plans to address threatened and endangered species.  The division represents DNR in trespass cases, boundary line disputes, and quiet title actions.  The situations range from expired leases where tenants refuse to re-sign a lease or to pay rent, to cases where property boundaries or ownership are in dispute.  The division assists DNR in their efforts to determine which rivers and streams throughout Washington state are navigable and thus owned by the state.  DNR faces increasing pressure to keep state lands available to the public for recreation.  Indian tribes also desire access to state lands for hunting and gathering and for cultural reasons.  Division attorneys provide advice and representation in increasing litigation surrounding issues related to access.

Regulatory Programs:  The Forest Practices Board adopts rules that DNR implements in regulating forest practices.  The division assists the board in its rule-making efforts and represents it in challenges to its rules and other actions.  The division also assists DNR in implementation and enforcement of the forest practices program and in quasi-judicial and judicial review of forest practices decisions.  DNR regulates surface mining reclamation and oil and gas exploration, and the division assists with client advice matters and in quasi-judicial and judicial review of these decisions.

Fire Cost Recovery:  DNR has a statutory right to collect its fire suppression costs when a third party’s negligence is responsible for the starting or existence of a fire which spreads on certain forest land and under other enumerated circumstances.  The division works closely with the DNR to establish a framework for the investigation of forest land fires and the processing of meritorious fire suppression claims.

Derelict Vessel Removal Program:  The division assists DNR with the Derelict Vessel Removal Program, the first comprehensive mechanism in the state for addressing the problem of derelict or abandoned vessels in Washington's waters.  The program provides funding and expertise to assist public agencies in the removal and disposal of vessels across the state.

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