Funds approved for economic study of murrelet plan

Focus to be county taxing district revenues

PORT ANGELES — The Clallam County commissioners have agreed to give $7,500 to the Washington State Association of Counties to conduct an economic impact study of the Long-Term Conservation Strategy for the marbled murrelet and how it would affect junior taxing districts.

The commissioners agreed to send a letter to the Washington State Association of Counties (WSAC) informing it of the county’s support Tuesday.

WSAC sent a letter to the county in August requesting the funds so that it can conduct a detailed economic impact analysis on county taxing district revenues if the preferred alternative in the Department of Natural Resources’ Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Long-term Conservation Strategy for the marbled murrelet is implemented.

Clallam County, which has 93,301 acres of county trust lands — more than any other county in the state — was asked to provide $7,500 for the study. As of Aug. 13, DNR had committed $20,000 toward the study.

In its letter, WSAC said it will create an advisory group to help in selecting the consultant, developing the actual scope of work and overseeing the progress of the work and approving the final report.

The long-term conservation strategy for the marbled murrelet proposes several options that would preserve habitat on state timberlands, dedicating land to the bird.

The preferred alternative sets aside a total of 610,000 acres of long term forest cover in the state. The Final Environmental Impact Statement will be released this month.

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.

DNR’s 1.4 million acres include 14 percent of the state’s suitable habitat for the marbled murrelet. Marbled murrelets need forested habitat for nesting and, according to DNR, state lands in southwest Washington will play a “critical role” in the recovery of the state’s populations.

Commissioners have expressed concern about the amount of timberland set aside near Clallam Bay, saying it will create a financial burden for junior taxing districts such as the Cape Flattery School District.

In December, commissioners sent a letter to the Department of Natural Resources telling the department its financial analysis is inadequate.

In that letter, the county said the preferred alternative results in a $300 million reduction in value for the timber harvest from state trust lands and that Clallam County would expect a loss of $26 million.

“The major concern WSAC and other stakeholders consistently expressed was the inadequacy of the economic impact analysis, particularly as it applies to county revenues and the revenues of other taxing districts (schools, fire departments, hospitals, libraries, etc.) within counties,” the letter from WSAC reads.

WSAC’s letter said that in response to concerns, DNR conducted additional financial analysis and determined whether the number of operable acres within a jurisdiction increased, decreased or remained the same.

That study did not determine the impact of any monetary value to the change.

“While DNR’s work is helpful, we believe it falls well short of fully accounting for the long-term permanent direct and indirect economic impacts … [and] unfortunately, DNR does not intend to conduct any further evaluation of such potential impacts,” the letter reads.

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Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at [email protected].

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