Skagit County sues state over timber harvest plan

Skagit County sues state over timber harvest plan
Skagit County is suing the state over its sustainable harvest calculator that would significantly reduce logging activity on state trust forestland. Photo: freepik.com

The state Board of Natural Resources (BNR) last month approved a 10-year sustainable harvest calculator that coincided with a habitat conservation plan (HCP) for the marbled murrelet taking thousands of acres of working forestland offline. Now, Skagit County has filed a lawsuit in the Skagit County Superior Court against the state over its 10-year harvest plan, which represents a significant reduction in logging activity on state trust land in that county. The lawsuit notes there are tentative plans by state officials to take much of that trust land offline, which matches statements made by BNR members when it approved the harvest plan in December.

The state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) manages 2.1 million acres of working forest state trust land. Of that, roughly 21,257 acres are in Skagit County, representing roughly 25 percent of all working forestland in the county. Revenues generated from timber harvest sales support several local school districts, a library and hospital. Between 1998-2002, timber harvests on trust land in Skagit County generated $10.5 million for beneficiaries.

According to the lawsuit, BNR’s 10-year sustainable harvest plan for 2015-2024 for the county “reflects a drop in harvest of over 50% for some Skagit County beneficiaries.” Under the 2004-2015 plan, Skagit County’s timber harvest levels were set at 450 million thousand board feet (MMBF). However, under the 2015-2024 plan, the total would be 259 MMBF. Over the next four years, only 79 MMBF will be harvested from county trust land under the new plan; in comparison, 65 MMBF were harvested from trust lands in 2017.

The lawsuit claims that the new plan approved by BNR provided “no meaningful effort to address Skagit County’s concerns” raised in the months prior to its adoption.

The document adds that the “State and its officers are openly discussing plans to convert Skagit County’s State transfer lands to other uses, weaning Skagit County and its junior taxing districts off the significant revenues the lands in question produce through sustainable forestry.”

This matches remarks made by BNR member and Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal at the Dec. 3 meeting, saying that due to climate change, timber harvests from state trust lands should be replaced with “more progressive sources.”

However, the lawsuit claims that “while couched as a response to climate change by State officers, it does not appear logically connected to use of the State transfer lands for carbon sequestration, but rather appears more oriented toward the conversion of the trust forest lands to other uses.”

The county’s lawsuit requests that the court invalidate the harvest plan, appoint a different trustee, or return the trust lands back to the county. However, the lawsuit does not address the HCP for the marbled murrelet.

BNR’s next meeting is scheduled for Jan. 7.

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