POINT OF VIEW: Economy, taxing districts lose after timber harvest decision

DUE TO THE state Department of Natural Resources increasing marbled murrelet habitat conservation, Clallam County will see significantly lower timber harvests from state-owned timber lands through 2024 — and still lower harvests in the following decades.

There will be fewer harvest contracts for local logging companies, a diminished log supply to local mills, and fewer high-paying jobs for the forest products, transportation, and industrial products and services industries in Clallam County.

That puts downward pressure on our overall economy, on school enrollment numbers, and means not only decreased timber harvest revenues to local governments, but also smaller sales and harvest excise tax revenues.

We’ve seen this dreary movie before. Conservation efforts for the northern spotted owl resulted in dramatically lower federal and state timber harvests, with resulting dramatic negative impacts for our forest products industry.

Obviously, habitat preservation efforts to save the spotted owl have not yielded expected results. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service is now killing the barred owl, a competitive species, to decrease pressure on spotted owls. The jury’s still out on whether Olympic Peninsula spotted owl numbers will stabilize, let alone recover.

Several counties, schools, libraries and fire districts receiving DNR’s timber harvest revenues have filed lawsuits to overturn the board’s habitat set-asides, which decrease forested acres available for harvest. Some plaintiffs are from Clallam County, and good for them.

The Port Angeles Business Association has consistently advocated for the largest possible timber harvest volume that can be sustained over future decades. We want DNR to honor our state Supreme Court’s 1984 Skamania precedent: “A trustee must act with undivided loyalty to the trust beneficiaries, to the exclusion of all other interests. … It may not sacrifice this goal to pursue other objectives, no matter how laudable those objectives may be.”

Our industries and our families have suffered financially and in lowered future prospects for living in a place we all love. We have written and testified extensively, explaining in detail how the Board of Natural Resources is required by extensive legal precedent to let nothing but necessary compliance with federal and state environmental laws stand in the way of maintaining timber harvest levels – and therefore revenues to the state and local governments.

A detailed white paper explaining this can be found here: http://paba.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/PABA-White-Paper-Trust-Beneficiary-Expectations.pdf.

We urge the remaining Clallam governmental entities – county as well as port, school, fire, hospital, and parks and recreation districts join an existing lawsuit, or bring a federal suit to force the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to follow a 2018 U.S. Supreme Court precedent constraining its authority to demand habitat protections under federal Endangered Species Act.

The Board of Natural Resources and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service apparently ignored this precedent in their joint decisions.

We also urge our legislators to act to set this decision aside. The Legislature is the trustee of school lands granted at statehood, and also of county lands forfeited decades ago for non-payment of taxes, and later transferred to the state to be managed in trust for local governments.

The greater the timber harvest activity on state forest lands, the more local jobs are supported, the more harvest revenues flow directly to state and local governments, and the less pressure there is on local governments to raise sales and property tax levies.

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Jim McEntire chairs the Port Angeles Business Association’s Government Affairs Committee. He formerly served as a Port of Port Angeles Commissioner, a Clallam County Commissioner, and as a member of the State Board of Natural Resources (a component of the Department of Natural Resources charged with setting timber harvest levels on state forested lands).

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