OLYMPIA — Drawing criticism from environmental and timber groups, the Board of Natural Resources approved in a 4-2 vote a long-term conservation strategy for the marbled murrelet that local officials fear will significantly impact budgets of West End taxing districts.
“We are resolving more than two decades of uncertainty with old action to protect marbled murrelet habitat while supporting Washington’s rural economies,” said Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz in a statement.
“We are moving forward on a path that safeguards this threatened species while creating jobs and economic opportunity — a dual investment in the future of the marbled murrelet and our small towns.”
Clallam County Commissioner Bill Peach and Jim Cahill, senior budget assistant to Gov. Jay Inslee, voted against the measure Tuesday. Franz, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal, Washington State University Dean Andre-Denis Wright and University of Washington Director Dan Brown voted in favor of the plan.
“I do not believe this represents the best interests of the beneficiaries,” said Peach. “I am very concerned about the impact to timber communities.”
The board also set a sustainable harvest level.
The sustainable harvest level for timber on state trust lands is set to 4.65 billion board feet for the planning decade, which the Department of Natural Resources claims will “guarantee a more stable flow of income to the schools, colleges and counties that depend on that revenue.”
The adopted conservation strategy protects 59,000 acres of occupied marbled murrelet sites and 58,000 acres of forestland set aside for the bird. Within this protected forestland, there are 78,000 acres of current murrelet habitat.
This is in addition to 90,000 acres of non-revenue-generating DNR forestland that is also suitable habitat.
DNR estimates that in 50 years there will be a combined 272,000 acres of marbled murrelet habitat on DNR-managed state lands.
The American Forest Resource Council (AFRC) criticized the board for reducing annual harvest levels on DNR trust lands by 85 million board feet over the next several years.
This will result in an estimated annual loss of nearly $30 million in timber revenues that support public services and agency management costs, according to the AFRC, which advocates for sustained yield timber harvests on public timber lands.
The organization also estimates that an 85-million-board-foot reduction in timber harvests equates to 935 lost jobs.
“Officials in Olympia talk about the importance of ‘working forests’ and sustainable timber harvests to supporting public education, community services, rural jobs and providing Washington-grown wood products, but these plans take the state in the opposite directions,” said AFRC President Travis Joseph in a statement.
“Throughout this process, AFRC, county governments and other beneficiaries repeatedly raised concerns about setting aside wide swaths of trust lands for speculative conservation gains but enormous costs to those who depend on the management of these forests for the many benefits they provide.”
Joseph said DNR has reserved large areas of young, previously managed forests that will likely never become habitat for the bird.
The Marbled Murrelet Coalition, comprised of several environmental groups, criticized the plan for not doing enough to protect the threatened seabird and its habitat.
“Washingtonians should not be faced with the false choice of reducing vital services for people or causing significant loss of our wildlife heritage,” said Becky Kelly, president of Washington Environmental Council, a member of the Marbled Murrelet Coalition. “In our prosperous state, our state leaders can and must find solutions that deliver both.”
According to the Final Environmental Impact Statement for the plan, Clallam Fire District No. 5 in Clallam Bay would lose 14.1 percent of its operable acres, Cape Flattery School District would lose 13.9 percent of its operable acres, Clallam Fire District No. 4 in Joyce would lose 6.4 percent of its operable acres, Crescent School District would lose 5.3 percent of its operable acres and the Forks Community Hospital district would lose 2.9 percent of its operable acres, according to the EIS.
However, an analysis by Forks City Attorney and Planner Rod Fleck, shows that the impact to some districts’ budgets could be more than 47 percent in the short term, when accounting for the age of the stands.
Cape Flattery School District and Clallam County Fire District No. 5 would each see a 47.2 percent reduction in operable trust lands, he said.
In Joyce, Clallam Fire District No. 4 — which last month passed a levy lid lift because of declining timber dollars — would see a reduction of 34.8 percent and the Crescent School District would see a reduction of 29.3 percent of its operable acres.
The Forks Community Hospital and EMS districts would see a reduction of 13.9 percent.
DNR manages 14 percent of existing marbled murrelet habitat in Washington state. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service considers DNR-managed land in Clallam, Pacific and Wahkiakum counties to be important habitat to the conservation of the species, of which approximately 6,000 are believed to remain in Washington state.
The bird is listed as “threatened” and less than 2 percent of its population is in Washington, with 94 percent of its population living in Alaska or British Columbia, according to DNR.
Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at [email protected].