Looking to put better protections in place for farmers and ranchers leasing state trust lands, Rep. Chris Corry has introduced a bill that would change the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) standards when terminating a land lease. Corry, R-Yakima, says the change is necessary to develop trust between the agency and land lessees.
“This is a partnership, and the state needs to hold up their end of the bargain,” says Corry. “When the Department of Natural Resources moves to terminate a land lease, farmers and ranchers often take an ugly financial hit. We need to give them confidence their lease agreements will be honored. My bill helps that relationship-building process,” stated Corry.
Under the non-default or early termination provision of a state trust land lease, DNR is authorized to terminate the lease in the event the agency includes the land in a plan for a “higher or better use, land exchange, or sale.” According to RCW 79.13.420, when ending a lease early, DNR must provide advance written notice of at least 180 days and documentation of the planned or “higher” use for the land.
Corry’s bill, House Bill 1964, would also require the agency to obtain written consent from the lessee before reclaiming the land. He says when it comes to farmers and ranchers, there isn’t a bigger, or more powerful, landlord than DNR, which makes the additional safeguard necessary.
“Fundamentally this is a tenant rights issue. We wouldn’t do this to people renting a home—moving them out simply because somebody else has more money. We need to honor these leases, so farmers and ranchers can be confident that when they enter in these agreements with the state, they can rely on the terms,” added Corry.
State trust lands are a public resource. According to DNR, 1.1 million acres of state trust lands are leased for grazing or agricultural use.
House Bill 1964 has been referred to the House Rural Development, Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee.
The 105-day 2019 legislative session is scheduled to end April 28.