OLYMPIA — A pair of planning documents that will affect timber harvests on the North Olympic Peninsula for the next decade will be completed by the end of 2018, a senior state Department of Natural Resources official said.
Angus Brodie, DNR deputy supervisor of uplands, said an agency review of 6,500 public comments and other factors have delayed the timeline for the 2015-2024 sustainable harvest calculation and long-term conservation strategy for the marbled murrelet.
“We had hoped to have the final environmental impact statements out by the end of this year,” Brodie said in a Friday telephone interview.
“We’re moving that out to the end of March .”
Brodie cited a change in leadership at DNR as another reason for the delay.
Hilary Franz became commissioner of public lands in January. Other new members have joined the state Board of Natural Resources in recent months.
DNR received more than 5,200 public comments on the draft environmental impact statement for the marbled murrelet conservation strategy and another 1,300 comments on the decadal harvest level.
“We’ve been working through all the comments that we’ve received,” Brodie said.
“We’re going through and reviewing those comments and seeing if there is substantive information in there to inform our Board of Natural Resources.”
The public comments came from a “broad range” of perspectives, including the environmental community and trust beneficiaries that rely on timber revenue, Brodie said.
Public comments were due in March.
Clallam County Commissioner Bill Peach, who represents 21 timber counties as vice chair of the Board of Natural Resources, said the DNR board will be “making some decisions” on preferred alternatives in July.
“The entire process is expected to be completed in December of 2018,” Peach told his fellow county commissioners in a May 9 meeting.
“It’s a little disappointing, because I was hoping that it would be much earlier than that.
“The forecast that they previously presented was the end of this year,” Peach added. “Now they’re moving it out.”
Peach cited a new proposal from the environmental community as a possible reason for the delay.
“It did not have any kind of review,” Peach said of what he described as Alternative G.
“It was not part of the [draft] environmental impact statement. So now the question is: How do we deal with this new proposal?”
Brodie said a conservation caucus submitted a “very detailed, conservation-oriented alternative” in its public comments for the marbled murrelet document.
“In essence, what it did is add acres for conservation,” Brodie said.
The marbled murrelet is a small seabird that nests in coastal forests. It is listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act and by the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Other proposals for expanded marbled murrelet protection were made by the Environmental Protection Agency and Fish and Wildlife, Brodie said.
The Board of Natural Resources might decide to incorporate the public comments in the final environmental impact statements, he added.
Clallam and Jefferson counties receive a share of the revenue from timber harvests on DNR-managed trust lands, as do junior taxing districts such as schools, hospitals and fire departments.
Clallam County Commissioner Mark Ozias asked Peach in the May 9 meeting how the delay would impact junior taxing districts.
“Most certainly there will be financial impact,” Peach said.
“Because [the new alternative] wasn’t analyzed, we don’t have projections.”
The DNR-listed alternatives for the marbled murrelet would have a minimal impact on Clallam County timber harvests because of pre-existing protections for the northern spotted owl, Peach has said.
The marbled murrelet conservation strategy involves the National Environmental Policy Act and State Environmental Policy Act.
After DNR publishes its final environmental impact statement for the marbled murrelet next spring, it will be sent to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as an amendment to the Habitat Conservation Plan.
The federal agency will make decisions around incidental take permits for the marbled murrelet before DNR signs off on the long-range conservation plan.
By contrast, the 10-year sustainable harvest calculation is “solely a DNR agency document,” Brodie said.
DNR’s draft sustainable harvest listed five options, including a status quo alternative 1, that would result in varying amounts of timber harvests over the next decade.
At Peach’s request, DNR staff analyzed the effect that each option would have on Western Washington timber counties.
For most counties, including Jefferson, harvest volumes will be reduced under any alternative other than the status quo.
Clallam is one of the few counties that would see increased harvest volumes under one or more alternatives.
Under alternative 2, for example, Clallam County’s total harvest volume would increase from the present 210 million board feet to 229 million board feet, a 9 percent increase.
Alternative 2 incorporates 702 million board feet of arrearage — timber that was supposed to be sold and wasn’t sold in the past decade — in five years of harvest.
Three separate decisions are embedded within the sustainable harvest calculation: the marbled murrelet conservation strategy, arrearage and harvest levels in riparian zones.
Given the level of uncertainty surrounding the marbled murrelet, DNR staff has advised the Board of Natural Resources to make final decisions on the two plans “when we have absolute certainty,” Brodie said.
The six-member Board of Natural Resources is scheduled to discuss the marbled murrelet long-term conservation strategy and sustainable harvest calculation at its June 6 meeting in Olympia.
Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56450, or at [email protected].