PORT TOWNSEND — Jefferson County commissioners have questions about how inclusion in a proposed state carbon sequestration program would affect beneficiaries of state trust lands, among other concerns.
A public meeting is planned from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Nov. 30 to allow county commissioners gather more information about the potential impacts of the program. It will be conducted at Jefferson County Library, 620 Cedar Ave., Port Hadlock.
Commissioner Heidi Eisenhour said Friday that, faced with the prospect of climate change, commissioners want to explore a number of management options for county forests.
“We have more information than we had before,” Eisenhour said. “We still don’t have a clear sense of the price that jurisdictions are going to receive. We’re needing to get down to the bottom of that before we even propose being included.”
Eisenhour said commissioners are interested in the possibility of a co-management arrangement with DNR that would allow for multiple uses in county forests.
Eisenhour had written the agenda item for last Monday’s commissioners’ meeting, saying: “We will focus on a discussion of, and getting input on, forest management options and their implications in Jefferson County, including carbon offsets.
“We will be inviting a diverse set of stakeholders to that session including the DNR team, other relevant elected officials and senior staff, tribes, junior taxing districts and subject matter experts from the conservation, forest products and recreation industries,” the item said.
A public survey is open until Friday at DNR’s website at dnr.wa.gov/carbonoutreach. DNR officials said they are committed to public engagement in the selection process and that a full financial analysis will be conducted after the total 10,000 acres have been selected statewide.
Public comments were mixed — about half in favor and half opposed to the program — during Monday’s meeting following the commissioners’ discussion with Csenka Favorini-Csorba, DNR senior policy advisor, who walked them through the details of the program.
In June, commissioners sent a letter to DNR asking that Jefferson County be included in the counties being considered for the program.
DNR has selected 15 parcels covering 3,911 operable acres of Jefferson County lands belonging to the county or the state, Favorini-Csorba said, which amounts to more than 114.3 million board feet of timber or 238,000 metric tons of stored carbon.
Rather than selling the timber for logging, the carbon sequestration program leases forested lands to companies that produce carbon emissions in a cap-and-trade program that allows companies to continue carbon-producing activities while preserving forest.
DNR staff said that leases, which last for 40 years, will provide more stable annual income over the irregular, albeit larger, sales of timber.
But there were disagreements over how much revenue the leasing program would generate. Money from certain DNR timber sales funds community services including education and fire protection, and community members expressed concern that less funding would be available for those essential services.
Eisenhour said Friday the price of carbon had fluctuated recently, and the commissioners had a duty to understand the impacts of the program on beneficiaries.
In June, state Sen. Kevin Van De Wege, a Democrat who represents the 24th Legislative District, which includes Jefferson County, wrote an opinion piece in the Seattle Times raising questions about DNR’s transparency in the carbon program.
Van De Wege said DNR has put additional lands into conservation status without proper oversight from the Legislature or the Board of Natural Resources.
“There are no public records or analyses explaining how leasing state trust lands for carbon offsets complies with DNR’s fiduciary obligation to current and future generations of beneficiaries,” Van De Wege said.
Five Democratic state lawmakers including Van De Wege and District 24 Reps. Mike Chapman and Steve Tharinger sent a letter to DNR in July asking the matter be brought before the Board of Natural Resources.
“While the Board has received two presentations from DNR staff on the proposal, many questions remain about how the program would work, its potential environmental and financial ramifications, and uncertainty about the Board’s role in the process,” the letter said.
Reporter Peter Segall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.