PORT ANGELES — The foundation is being laid for a pilot effort to provide cedar and alder to North Olympic Peninsula mills starving for raw materials, state Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz said Wednesday.
The Department of Natural Resources, which she heads, is devising a program-director job description that will include input from timber industry officials who attended the Clallam County Economic Development Council meeting Wednesday, at which Franz was the featured speaker.
The person who is hired will report to Deputy Supervisor For Uplands Angus Brodie, who will report to Franz.
DNR serves as landlord for more than 5 million acres of natural area preserves, conservation areas, recreational sites, aquatic lands and uplands in the state’s 39 counties.
It includes 2 million acres of state forest trust land, 18.5 percent of which is on the North Olympic Peninsula — 208,000 acres in Jefferson County and 162,000 acres in Clallam County.
Hiring a program director to generate more cedar and alder availability for mills won’t come too soon for officials from Pacific Northwest Products LLC of Forks and Port Angeles Hardwood, who Franz pledged would take part in helping devise the new program director’s job description.
The state Legislature allocated funding for a position to help DNR determine if there is more supply of hardwood and cedar salvage available on the Olympic Peninsula and in the Willapa Hills, DNR spokesperson Darwin Forsythe said in an email Wednesday afternoon.
“Obviously that was very recent, so we’re still working with stakeholders to determine the scope of that role.”
Port Angeles Hardwood Log Buyer Brian Karnes is eager to see the position filled.
“It’s a big deal for our industry to have the program and to have it succeed, to bring us more products for our mill to keep our mill running full time, which is a struggle on the Peninsula with the limited harvest we’ve had in the past,” he told Franz.
Karnes said in a later interview the program will target cedar salvage and alder harvest.
“Any time we can get logs that are sourced locally, the better,” he said.
Sig Toma of Portland, owner of Pacific Northwest Products in Forks, who attended Wednesday’s meeting, said his company had to shut down 220 shingle machines from a lack of cedar salvage from DNR and other landowners.
“It’s caused the industry to shrink dramatically in supply, and we are literally losing the roofing product that’s being able to be installed to asphalt and other artificial products that are petroleum products,” Toma said in an interview.
Establishment of a successful pilot program “would expand the business again, and there would be more roofing supplies from wood products,” Toma said.
“It’s gotten to the point where we might have to shut down or do something else with the mill.”
EDC Executive Director Colleen McAleer echoed worries over potential mill closures generated by lack of raw product.
“There was a big concern that they might have to shut down just based on the process that DNR followed, not any other issues, so we’re really excited and hopeful that that will be able to provide the supply needed for several mills in the Olympic region,” McAleer said at the meeting.
Franz responded that DNR would make sure Karnes’ and Toma’s input would be considered on the pilot program director’s job description and scope.
“That should be literally, if it hasn’t been announced, it’s on the heels of being announced,” Franz said.
“We’ll need your help, guys, to help fill it with top talent, right?,” she said.
“That will help specifically in your area.”
Franz said she was against a recent proposal, put forward by former Lands Commissioners Jennifer Belcher and Peter Goldmark, to combat climate change by creating ecological reserves that would annually, over 20 years, make off limits to commercial harvest 5 percent of Western Washington forest lands.
“I believe that this is not the best for our environment,” Franz said.
“It’s also not the best for our communities.
“I think the most sustainable thing we can be doing is actually growing our wood here in Washington state.
“If we are now exporting the production of our wood, we are now increasing transportation cost, we are also increasing the greenhouse gas emissions from transportation.”
DNR is responsible for 50 percent of production in many mills in the state, Franz said, adding that, if that production ceases, it could lead to problems similar to those occurring in Central Washington, where there are no mills and an abundance of unhealthy private, state and federal forest lands.
Franz said DNR has already set aside almost 40 percent of its 2 million acres.
A top priority is addressing a lawsuit before the state Supreme Court over marbled murrelet habitat that questions the definition of public interest as it relates to DNR land.
“We balanced our responsibility under the Endangered Species Act as well as balancing our responsibilities as fiduciaries to the trust,” Franz said.
She also discussed a trust lands performance assessment and pledged to ensure an inventory of forest lands is accurate and reliable.
“It’s not a one-and-done work,” she said.
House Bill 1168, which Gov. Jay Inslee signed, provides $500 million to upgrade wildfire response and speed up forest restoration, and funds 100 new firefighter positions.
There were 225 fires this April compared with 160 last year.
Over the last two years, 40 percent of fires were west of the Cascades.
“We are seeing southwest and the coast having significant drought concerns, and we’re just starting in June,” Franz said.
To view her presentation, go to clallam.org and click “Link to Archive” on the home page.
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].