Jefferson County aims to protect legacy growth

Letter going to state Department of Natural Resources about timber harvest

QUILCENE — Jefferson County Commissioners are sending a letter to the state Department of Natural Resources to negotiate the sale of timber from Beaver Valley Sorts and Pennywise in an effort to protect legacy growth forests in the county.

In a special meeting on Tuesday, the county commissioners voted 2-1, with Greg Brotherton opposed, to approve the letter to the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), requesting it defer the harvest of the older naturally regenerated forests but allow harvest in other areas of Beaver Valley.

Brotherton said his opposition to the letter was mainly due to timing.

“I am also interested in kind of steering the ship of DNR and the Board of Natural Resources into a more sustainable model, not just the clear cut harvest model,” he said.

“There might be alternatives. There is a lot of potential for variable thinning and a voluntary carbon offset market that might allow us to preserve these forests in a way that still keeps the trust whole..I don’t feel like we have a plan yet to replace the income that the junior taxing districts will get with other systems yet”

Said Commissioner Heidi Eisenhour: “We would like to work in partnership with DNR to develop a project that sets aside older forests in East Jefferson County on State Forest Transfer trust lands, about 10 percent or about 1,400 acres of the lands DNR manages on behalf of the county in that trust and focus their harvest activity on other timber stands,”

The proposed sale would be for 131.4 acres of harvested timber, which would require nearly 7,000 feet of road construction and more than 16,000 feet of pre-haul maintenance.

Legacy growth forests are those that are naturally regenerated forests, between 80 and 100 years old, that were last logged prior to World War II and the start of industrial clear-cutting.

“Many are more than a century old and exhibit old-growth characteristics,” Eisenhour said, describing them as “lifeboats for biodiversity.”

“They sequester carbon at remarkable rates, among the highest in the nation, and reach this remarkable capacity in the second century of their growth,” she added.

“If legacy forests are left to mature, the lowlands of Western Washington will once again be home to old-growth forests.”

The county looked at other methods for deferment, such as reconveyance.

“Between 1900-1940, counties acquired some lands due to tax foreclosure, largely due to the Great Depression. These lands were then conveyed from the counties to the state for management via DNR. Counties can, and have, requested reconveyance of these lands,” Eisenhour said.

Commissioner Kate Dean was not in favor of reconveyance.

“I am not excited about the idea of reconveyance,” Dean said. “I have a lot of concerns about our ability to manage hundreds or thousands of acres of land for parks.”

Should Jefferson County pursue reconveyance in the future, it could frequent 15,000 acres of state trust lands that DNR manages or request 1,400 acres and have the remaining 13,600 managed by DNR.

The county also is asking to be participants in DNR’s new carbon pilot program.

“We want to send a letter to DNR saying we want to be included in phase two of the carbon pilot program. So I wanted to be sure we got as close as we could today,” Eisenhour said.

DNR launched the carbon project back in April by moving 10,000 acres of western Washington’s forests into conservation status, leasing the land for carbon sequestration and storage.

“This initiative represents the first-in-the-nation use of carbon markets by a state agency to protect critical forest areas by immediately removing stands from the planned harvest schedule, many of which were slated for imminent harvest,” according to the DNR website.

The project will be in two phases, with the first phase launching in Whatcom, Thurston, King and Grays Harbor counties.

“We would like to understand what criteria they are using for selecting forests for inclusion and have them potentially include some of these above-mentioned older forests in this project,” Eisenhour said.

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Reporter Ken Park can be reached at [email protected].

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