Jefferson considering forest land transfers

Forester: Expanding base could help with forest management

PORT TOWNSEND — Jefferson County officials should look into expanding the county’s land base to continue with its forest management program, according to the forestry company contracted to develop the county’s program.

Speaking to Jefferson County commissioners on Monday, Malloree Weinheimer, principal and forester at Chickadee Forestry, LLC, said many of the county’s forest lands are small, non-contiguous parcels of 5 or 10 acres, which make forest management difficult.

“This is a decision point for you all,” Weinheimer said. “The point of this report was to help you make more informed decisions on where the forestry program goes.”

The county contracted with Chickadee in 2018 to create a forest management strategy for county-owned lands. Weinheimer presented commissioners on Monday with a potential strategy for the next five to 10 years.

The county currently owns 1,800 acres across 300 parcels, most of which are less than 10 acres, Weinheimer said, and managing those scattered parcels can be difficult and expensive.

Forest lands need to be managed to promote forest health, mitigate fire risk and promote local uses including recreation and timber harvests.

With the county’s current small land base, Weinheimer said forest management practices such as thinning will not generate revenue, though limited timber sales could offset those costs.

Weinheimer said if the county wishes to continue investing in its forest management program, it should consider expanding the amount of lands it oversees. That would mean working with the state Department of Natural Resources to transfer specific lands to the county.

“Increasing the forest land base for the county will increase the potential for sustainable timber revenue, which would be selectively harvested and focused on a lighter touch than DNR,” Weinheimer wrote in the study.

“This would provide more timber revenue for the county to help sustain a county forestry program.”

There are currently county-owned lands in need of forest management for forest health and risk management issues, Weinheimer said, and with the county’s current land base, those efforts will be logistically difficult and costly.

Weinheimer suggested working with DNR to select parcels north of state Highway 104 for transfer to the county while leaving lands south of the highway under state control. Lands north of the highway are closer to more populated areas, farther from lumber mills and grow more slowly due to being in rainshadowed areas of the Olympic Mountains, Weinheimer said.

Transferring lands from DNR would yield less money for the county, Weinheimer said, but would allow the county more flexibility in how it uses those lands.

“It’s definitely a lower value, but there are trade-offs,” Weinhiemer said. “There are the ecosystem trade-offs; there are cultural and recreational trade-offs.”

The county still would be able to sell timber, but it would be in smaller quantities than DNR, Weinheimer said.

Kitsap and Grays Harbor counties have both worked with DNR to transfer lands back to county control and created a financially sustainable forest management program.

Weinheimer said she suggested seeking lands north of Highway 104 after consultations with DNR and that conservation and recreation areas were not included in the discussion.

District 2 Commissioner Heidi Eisenhour said she met recently with Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz who said DNR was interested in working with Jefferson County on forest management issues.

However, there are different categories of DNR lands and different mechanisms for transferring lands, and counties can make management recommendations to the state asking that certain parcels — such as rare, ecologically diverse forests — be exempted from harvest.

“We’ve only talked about reconveying and a handful of parcels that are strategically located, and that’s all we’ve talked about so far,” Eisenhour said at the meeting.

Eisenhour said later that the county is waiting on potential policy changes from the state Legislature that impact forest management before committing additional resources to further studying land transfers.

“Those conversations are ongoing,” Eisenhour said of potential land transfers. “We want to kind of wait and see what the Legislature decides.”


Reporter Peter Segall can be reached at

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