PORT ANGELES — Timber dominated the discussion as Clallam County commissioner candidates Bill Peach, the Republican incumbent, and former commissioner Mike Doherty, a Democrat, exchanged jabs at a Port Angeles Business Association forum Tuesday.
The two will face each other in the Nov. 6 general election.
When asked about forest fires on public lands, Doherty said there should be increased thinning of forests and discussion with private timberland owners about fire buffers.
“Some of those things we should have been doing years ago,” he said, citing concerns about global warming. “I would say we should act faster.”
Doherty is a former four-term county commissioner who did not seek re-election to the four-year seat in 2014. He repeatedly cited his record on the board from 1999-2014.
Peach, who sits on the state Board of Natural Resources, referred to the 38,000-acre forest fire that threatened the city of Forks in 1951 and said it was the people working in the forests who stopped the fire.
Doherty said it was actually a weather system coming off the Pacific Ocean that quelled the fire.
Peach said it’s “disturbing” that National Forest Service and state Department of Natural Resources lack the workforce and resources to handle such a fire.
“I am concerned about what’s occurring, and it has more to do with not caring for the forests than climate change,” Peach said.
“Climate change is a factor, but the fact is that if your roads aren’t open, there will be a worse fire, if you need to get in to do something about that fire.”
Peach said when the county Trust Lands Advisory Committee in 2016 was questioning whether the county commissioners should seek the reconveyance of state forest lands back to Clallam County to be managed by the county, Doherty was against having that discussion.
“Mike, it was in October that you were still contending that this discussion shouldn’t even be taking place,” Peach said.
“A person who said at the very first PABA debate that he’s always supported the timber industry behaved exactly the opposite during those discussions.”
Doherty said that he actually does support the timber industry, just not as much as Peach.
“I think I have supported the timber industry, not as much as you might and do, and I think that’s pretty much your one issue as far as performance over three and a half years,” Doherty said.
“I did it a different way. I worked through 21 counties, the timber counties, as a group, rather than one county out doing its thing.”
Peach and Doherty also were asked for their positions on increasing the amount of wilderness.
The proposed Wild Olympics Wilderness and Wild and Scenic Rivers Act would designate 126,554 acres of Olympic National Forest as wilderness and 464 miles of rivers and streams and as wild and scenic rivers.
Peach said he would support the proposal if it also put the same amount of acres into production.
“If that occurred I’d certainly support it,” he said. “Until then what I don’t support is a process where there is this burning desire to save additional acres and I especially don’t appreciate the process that was used here at the county by Commissioner Doherty to wheelbarrow this project and to have the signature of all three county commissioners prior to discussing it or presenting it to the public.”
It’s an issue Peach raised when he attempted to unseat Doherty in 2010. At the time, it referred to a Feb. 17, 2010, letter signed by all three county commissioners asking then Rep. Norm Dicks to support the Wild Olympics Campaign.
Doherty, who did not state his position on the Wild Olympics proposal introduced in Congress, said he doesn’t remember “wheelbarrowing” any legislation.
Doherty said often Clallam County “goes off on its own” on timber issues and said he would work with all of the timber counties.
He criticized Peach for being the only member of the Board of Natural Resources to vote against the marbled murrelet long-term conservation strategy.
“If you’re going to be the only vote and there’s six or seven of your peers voting against you, you’ll try to bring a couple people over so it looks like your position is viable,” Doherty said. “To have a vote that dramatic that goes against you is not a good thing on a major policy board.”
The vote in November 2017 was 5-1.
Peach did not address the issue Tuesday, but at the time said he preferred another alternative.
Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at [email protected].