Washington’s timber sales backlog

Washington’s timber sales backlog
As the state Board of Natural Resources works on a new 10-year sustainable timber harvest plan, it must now include timber sales that were not completed during the 2004-2015 period. Photo: freepik.com

Washington state currently manages 2.1 million acres of working forest state trust land, and that responsibility carries with it a legal mandate to generate revenue. That mandate is handled by the Board of Natural Resources (BNR), which sets policies for the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and approves the agency’s 10-year sustainable harvest plans that determine how much timber is to be sold from trust land.

Not only is the board several years into the new harvest period without a new plan, but also it must figure out how to include uncompleted timber sales from the 2004-2015 harvest schedule. While some stakeholders stress urgency in completing those sales so that beneficiaries received that expected revenue, others say the proposed new harvest plan needs tweaking.

Under the 2004-2015 plan, the goal was to harvest 5.5 billion thousand board feet of timber (MMBF). However, that target was missed by roughly 460 MMBF – more than the total timber harvested from state trust land in 2015. According to DNR Uplands Deputy Supervisor Angus Brodie, it’s one of the largest arrearages in decades.

“We’re looking to catch up and make good on our responsibilities,” DNR Forest Resources Division Manager Andrew Hayes told the board at its Nov. 5 meeting.

Hayes cited numerous causes for the discrepancy between the harvest plan and actual timber sales – among them the Great Recession. Between 2004-2015, DNR sold 57,000 acres of forestland and purchased 69,000 acres through the Trust Land Transfer Program.  However, the new land purchased contained less than a third of harvestable timber compared to the land sold. Additionally, the 2004-2015 harvest plan was approved before DNR’s Riparian Forest Restoration Strategy that ultimately reduced by 90 percent the amount of timber harvested in affected areas.

Under state law, when timber sales don’t meet the harvest plan, the acreage can be incorporated into the next planning period on top of the existing goals if doing so “will provide the greatest return to the trusts.” Under the proposed alternative harvest plan, meant to coincide with DNR’s conservation strategy for the marbled murrelet, 382 MMBF in timber sales would be added to the new 10-year harvest plan.

However, some stakeholders testifying at the meeting are questioning the final environmental impact statement (EIS) that contains the sustainable harvest calculations. Sierra Pacific Industries Manager Bill Turner noted to the board that the final EIS that was recently released lacks a 10 percent uncertainty factor previously included. “One would logically think if you remove that, everything should bump up 10 percent. We’ve not seen any change.”

He added that in the previous harvest plan timeframe, total timber growth turned out to be much higher than anticipated. “That shows you have more growth going on – you’re not cutting into it.”

American Forest Resource Council Washington State Manager Matt Comisky also highlighted two new appendixes previously not included in the draft EIS released in 2016. Those documents include potential policy changes the board might adopt.

He told the board that regardless of one’s opinion on those proposals, “public process did not play out…the public did not have an opportunity provide comment on those two policy proposals.”

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