Clallam commission recommends hiring forester for trust lands

Position could cost about $125,000 annually

PORT ANGELES — Clallam County should hire a forester to oversee state management of 92,000 acres of county-owned trust lands, the Charter Review Commission has recommended.

The three commissioners received the recommendation but took no action on the proposal Monday.

Timber sales on state Department of Natural Resources-managed trust lands generated about $1.2 million for Clallam County in 2019, Charter Review Commissioner and Forks City Attorney/Planner Rod Fleck said.

“It’s a complicated subject, and it would be nice if you had a consistent way of dealing with the DNR’s distribution of this money,” Charter Review Commission Chairwoman Sue Erzen told commissioners in the 4 1/2-hour meeting.

The county forester was the third and final recommendation submitted by the 15-member Charter Review Commission, which also proposed six amendments for voters to consider Nov. 3.

Previously, the elected Charter Review recommended commissioners take immediate steps to address the lack of affordable housing in Clallam County and require 5G wireless companies to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act.

Commissioner Mark Ozias said the county board would discuss next steps and potential timelines for all three recommendations in a subsequent work session.

DNR manages about 92,000 acres of forest lands in Clallam County with a mandate to return revenue from timber sales to the county and its junior taxing districts like public schools, hospitals and fire departments.

A forester would provide county oversight and involvement in DNR activities, according to the Sept. 28 recommendation from Erzen and Charter Review Commissioner Joe Murray.

Murray, who sponsored the amendment, said a forester would cost the county about $125,000 per year for wages, benefits and equipment.

“There is clearly a role for someone to monitor, especially in the case of the junior taxing districts, revenue streams,” said county Commissioner Bill Peach, who also serves on the state Board of Natural Resources.

“In general, I support this.”

No commissioner objected to the idea of hiring a forester.

“The beginning point for me, for many of these things, is to actually have some information about what’s really on the ground,” said Commissioner Randy Johnson, a retired forester.

The county forester would audit DNR’s forest inventory and identify shortcomings in silviculture.

“When we over-harvest or we under-treat our lands for silviculture, we’re simply taking away the forests’ ability to provide values to future generations,” said Murray, a longtime forester.

Clallam County has more timberland that was transferred to state management because of property tax defaults than any other county, Peach said.

“I do believe it’s very, very important to the citizens of Clallam County to know that that is being managed well,” Peach said.

DNR Regional Manger Mona Griswold said the agency was doing very well in silviculture and harvesting.

Ozias said DNR-managed trust lands generate about $750,000 to $800,000 for the county per year. Fleck said the county and its road fund received $1.2 million from timber harvests in 2019.

Clallam County receives about 25 percent of the total revenue generated from DNR-managed timber sales. The rest is dispersed to junior taxing districts within the county.

County Chief Financial Officer Mark Lane suggested a cost-sharing arrangement where the junior taxing districts that benefit from the forester would pay a share of his or her salary.

Fleck urged commissioners to pursue the recommendation.

“I would just say that, much like planting a tree, the benefit on that effort may not be immediately realized, but would be over the long term,” Fleck said.

“There’s a whole bunch of jobs associated with the volumes in the harvest level,” Fleck added, “and I think the county would have an interest in assuring those are maintained and continue as well.”

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Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at [email protected].

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