PORT TOWNSEND — Jefferson County officials got their first look at potential revenues that could be reaped by including local lands in the state’s carbon sequestration program, something county commissioners have been considering for the past few months.
“It’s our first look at even estimating what kind of return we might get on the carbon program,” said Heidi Eisenhower, Jefferson County District 2 commissioner, Wednesday at a public workshop about the program.
The county has been considering if it wants to be included in Phase 2 of the Department of Natural Resources’ carbon sequestration program, which instead of selling trees to timber companies for harvest, leases plots of forested lands to companies that have carbon-producing activities elsewhere, theoretically offsetting how much carbon is introduced into the atmosphere.
But junior taxing districts rely on funds from timber sales, and some residents and officials have expressed concerns about how local budgets might be impacted.
Estimates Wednesday were presented by Peter Bahls, executive director of the Northwest Watershed Institute, a Jefferson County-based organization that protect areas around the Toandos Peninsula and Dabob Bay.
That area contains a globally rare rhododendron forest, Bahls said, and his organization has been working with DNR since at least 2020 to expand the Dabob Bay Natural Area.
Some of the proposed parcels for carbon sequestration in Jefferson County are within the borders of an expansion under consideration of that natural area, which the state would be obligated to protect regardless of carbon sequestration.
Other parcels can still be logged or put to other uses at the end of the 40-year lease, Bahls said.
“Essentially this is paying Jefferson County to do longer rotations on its timberland,” Bahls said. “It’s kind of like putting money into your IRA in addition to getting paid to put money in your IRA.”
Eisenhower said she had asked Bahls to work with DNR senior policy advisor Csenka Favorini-Csorba to draft estimates of how much money Jefferson County might receive from being included in the carbon program.
But exactly how much money carbon leases would generate are currently unknown, and based on a number of variables, Bahls said. Carbon credits were currently selling for between $12-18 but Bahls said there would likely by high demand for Washington’s program and used an estimate of $20 a credit for projections of Jefferson County’s revenues.
Money is distributed to each county in proportion to the acreage included in the carbon program, Bahls said. The state is looking to include 10,000 acres in Phase 2 of its program with 3,911 acres, or 39 percent of the total acreage.
Bahls said DNR’s estimates selling 917,000 carbon credits at $20 dollars for the first 10 years of the program, netting the state roughly $18 million, with approximately $7 million going to Jefferson County in that same time period.
Assuming a $2 increase in carbon credits every 10 years, Jefferson County would be looking at about $33 million over the course of the 40-year lease, roughly 82 percent of the current value of standing timber.
However, Balhs said there are lands within the current timber stand that DNR would not sell for logging, and if rare forest types are removed from the standing timber value, the carbon program would net the county roughly 101 percent of the current timber value.
At the end of the lease, Bahls said parcels would be open for other uses, including logging, or further conservation.
Public comment on the matter, heard over the course of an hour, was mixed at Wednesday’s meeting.
Many urged commissioners to find ways to protect Jefferson County’s forests and unique natural areas, either through the carbon project or otherwise while others pointed to the revenues brought in by the timber industry.
Of particular concern was the funding that junior taxing districts receive from timber sales, and how a reduction in timber sales might impact government services in those areas.
Donald Svetich, volunteer deputy fire chief for Jefferson County Fire Protection District No. 2 based in Quilcene, said that his department and other emergency services organizations use revenue from timber sales to offset costs.
“If we don’t get timber revenue, we’re asking you for more tax money, a lot more tax money,” Svetich said. “To actually operate a fire department at Quilcene at its best business practices level, it’s gonna cost $6 million a year.”
Marcia Kelbon, Position 3 Commissioner for JCFPD No. 2, said she was concerned about the multiple projections for the actual value of the carbon program for Jefferson County, and said the junior taxing districts which depend on timber sales are often the most vulnerable communities.
“What I hear tonight, the 82 percent and the 101 percent, that is so different than what DNR is saying that it makes me wonder what is reliable here,” Kelbon said.
Other commenters spoke in person or called in to express support for conserving the county’s forests, whether through the carbon sequestration program or otherwise.
“The sense of being in that space is wonderful,” one caller said of Jefferson County’s forests. “I appreciate all the comments but I want people to also think about what some of these places can mean to us in this vicinity.”
Commissioners said they wanted to learn more about the carbon program as they were looking at multiple options for managing the county’s forests.
“The forest industry is as important a stakeholder as any other, all are very important, all of these inputs are informative,” said District 3 Commissioner Greg Brotherton. “I think the next step is to let this breathe a little. I look forward to a workshop soon.”
Malloree Weinheimer, owner of the county’s forestry contractor Chickadee Forestry, told commissioners Wednesday she was working on an analysis of DNR parcels in Jefferson County. The analysis will be available in January, she said.
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