Jefferson commissioners ask DNR to consider swap

Agency may ‘donate’ conservation acres to Clallam County

PORT TOWNSEND — Jefferson County Commissioners voted to draft a letter concurring with the state Department of Natural Resources’ selection of lands for conservation but asked the department to ensure funding to junior taxing districts will remain intact.

DNR is seeking concurrence from county commissioners as it looks to move 2,000 acres of structurally complex, carbon-dense forests into conservation status, part of the state’s Climate Commitment Act passed last year. That act also included $70 million to purchase replacement lands that can still be worked to support the junior taxing districts that rely on timber sales to fund critical services like fire and schools.

Duane Emmons, assistant deputy for state uplands, told commissioners Monday that DNR needs concurrence from the counties before it can begin selecting replacement lands.

“We can’t move on to the next stage of work until we get the areas finalized,” Emmons said.

The language of the act gave the department some flexibility in selecting replacement lands, Emmons said, as various kinds of trust lands can be used as replacements.

“It’s a huge priority,” said District 2 Commissioner Heidi Eisenhour, “that we are sure that we find replacement acres for those junior tax districts.

Of the 2,000 acres DNR has identified, 952 are in Jefferson County, mostly around Dabob Bay, where 671 acres will be moved into conservation status and used to expand the Dabob Bay Natural Area. Another 281 acres is being set aside in the Mount Walker and Notch Pass areas.

DNR sent the county a letter in December asking for concurrence before Jan. 31, so the land selection process can begin.

Commissioners unanimously approved a motion to have Eisenhour draft the letter, but they also voted to include a paragraph asking state Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz if some of Jefferson County’s conservation acres could be “donated” to Clallam County to secure land near Lake Sutherland.

“We’re happy to write the letter, but we would like exploration of this idea,” Eisenhour said. “I think it could be a win-win for the Peninsula.”

Earlier this month, Clallam County commissioners delayed giving their concurrence to DNR’s selection until the department can provide more information about the impact on junior taxing districts.

Clallam County commissioners had requested the Shore Thing sale parcel south of Lake Sutherland be included in DNR’s selection, but it was not.

Emmons said he had not asked Franz if one county donating acres to another was possible, but said he could raise the issue with her.

“I can try and have those discussions with the commissioner,” Emmons said.

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Reporter Peter Segall can be reached at peter.segall@peninsuladailynews.com.

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