PORT TOWNSEND — The state Department of Natural Resources could have an answer in the coming months to Jefferson County’s request to expand the Dabob Bay Natural Area and transfer other lands into conservation status.
Duane Emmons, DNR’s assistant deputy supervisor for Uplands, said the department is in the middle to end stages of identifying up to 2,000 acres of structurally complex, carbon-dense state trust forest land west of the Cascade Mountains that could be moved to conservation status.
“That would be within the next month,” Emmons told the Board of Jefferson County Commissioners on Monday. “The end of October, beginning of November.”
Commissioners sent a letter to state Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz in June which identified nearly 500 acres in Jefferson County that could benefit from the program, many of them around Dabob Bay, which could be used to expand the Dabob Bay Natural Area.
The state Legislature approved $70 million for DNR to purchase new forest lands to offset the 2,000 acres potentially being moved into conservation, and Emmons said the department has heard from at least six counties looking to participate in the program.
During the public comment portion of Monday’s meeting, several residents from the Quilcene area gave testimony thanking commissioners for working to preserve the area around Dabob Bay and said they supported conservation efforts on the Quimper Peninsula.
“What we have around Dabob Bay is unique and needs to be preserved for a number of reasons,” said Quilcene resident Kate Bouchillon. “I hope we can keep Dabob Bay where it needs to be in more of a conservation mode.”
However, representatives from the timber industry and the junior taxing districts who benefit from DNR timber sales also testified that they had some concerns about the process, and they urged commissioners to carefully consider the economic impacts of expanding conservation areas.
Heath Heikkila, government affairs for the American Forest Resource Council — a timber industry trade group — said DNR has excellent forestry practices and that the Pacific Northwest is one of the best places in the world for growing trees.
“Just do remember that every time you set aside forest land, you are shifting that logging to somewhere else,” Heikkila said.
The new lands that DNR would acquire in Jefferson County to replace those moved into conservation would be available for timber harvest, but Heikkila said the industry had some concerns about the process, saying, “Jefferson County may not be the best place to buy timberland, just to be frank.”
Also voicing concern was Quilcene Fire Rescue Position 3 Commissioner Marcia Kelbon, who said the district was able to consider purchasing a new fire engine this year thanks to a good timber harvest.
“We really rely on that revenue,” Kelbon said.
Kelbon asked that commissioners do further analysis on the timber lands to determine the impact to junior taxing districts, including the impact on local jobs.
Emmons said an older University of Washington study found that statewide the timber industry generated $1.5 billion annually and generated between 10,000 and 15,000 jobs.
Reporter Peter Segall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.