Conservation strategy “lays off” working forestland

Conservation strategy “lays off” working forestland
The state Board of Natural Resources has adopted a sustainable harvest calculator and a conservation strategy for the marbled murrelet that will prohibit timber harvests on thousands of acres of working forestland. Photo: freepik.com

The state Board of Natural Resources (BNR) at a Dec. 3 meeting approved a new Long Term Conservation Strategy (LTCS) for the marbled murrelet, along with a 10-year harvest strategy, that will take offline thousands of acres of working forestland managed under a state trust mandate.

The American Fire Resource Council (AFRC) estimates the management plans will reduce annual timber harvests by 85 million thousand board feet (MMBF), at the loss of approximately 935 jobs.

“We’re disappointed,” AFRC President Travis Joseph said in a statement. “These actions pile on to already struggling rural communities and will threaten the ability of some beneficiaries – like rural fire districts – to provide essential public services moving forward. AFRC will be working with elected officials and fellow stakeholders on next steps to ensure these trust lands continue working for Washingtonians and the beneficiaries these lands support.”

The LTCS updates a 1997 State Trust Lands Habitat Conservation Plan intended to protect the marbled murrelet, a sea bird listed as endangered by the state Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). The new alternative plan adopted adds 37,000 acres of forestland to those already protected under the conservation strategy for a total of 168,000 acres, which Joseph and other stakeholders have pointed out includes areas where there is no existing habitat for the bird. Now more than half of the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) forestland in Western Washington is inactive, while the state agency manages 14 percent of marbled murrelet habitat in Washington.

AFRC had favored Alterative B, which would have affected only 9,0000 new acres, while environmentalists had pushed for an alternative that added 76,000 acres of forestland.

In a statement, Conservation Northwest Policy Director Paula Swedeen said “we believe the state’s constitution provides a mandate to the Department of Natural Resources and its Board discretion to better support marbled murrelets and all public resources in addition to coastal communities.”

“Throughout this process, AFRC, county governments and other beneficiaries repeatedly raised concerns about setting aside wide swaths of trust lands for speculative conservation gains but enormous costs to those who depend on the management of these forests for the many benefits they provide,” Joseph wrote. “AFRC and the beneficiaries constructively provided reasonable alternatives to help the DNR achieve its conservation objectives, but those alternatives were ignored in favor of a plan that hurts Washingtonians, while failing to support vulnerable species.”

The plan coincides with a significant reduction in timber harvests as part of a new sustainable harvest calculator approved by BNR for 2015-2024. The previous 10-year plan called for 5.5 billion MMBF, but that goal was missed by 460 MMBF. With acreages included, the 2015-2024 harvest calculator envisions only 4.66 billion MMBF. The forecasted timber volume is only expected to drop in the 2025-2034 period to 4.2 billion MMBF. DNR says it is already expecting to take offline another 100,000 acres of forestland as part of the conservation strategy within its 50-year timeframe.

BNR member and Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal told colleagues at the Dec. 3 meeting that the revenue provided to beneficiaries through timber harvests should be replaced with “more progressive sources” due to climate change. “We have to have a totally different strategy going forward than the presumption we’ve had over the last five or ten decades about how to harvest, support beneficiaries, move forward – that’s not going to work. The industries are going to need significant help to sustain themselves through this big, big crisis.”

However, Joseph wrote that “the harvest reductions will directly harm rural jobs and decrease funding for public schools, fire departments, libraries, hospitals and other community services. AFRC is also concerned these plans conflict with DNR’s legal obligations to manage state trust lands to harvest timber at sustainable levels for trust beneficiaries.”

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