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To save the environment, protect DNR's control of school lands

Guest Opinion: The state is doing a fine job of managing timber harvests for the public good.
Capitol State Forest

Capitol State Forest Jessica Payne/Courtesy of the Department of Natural Resources

In a recent guest opinion, “Stop funding school construction with clear cuts,” Web Hutchins attempted to make the case that the state should stop harvesting timber on forested lands managed by the Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR). Unfortunately, many of the “facts” Mr. Hutchins uses to support his opinion are either misleading or questionable. As a member of the Board of Natural Resources, which oversees timber sales on DNR-managed properties, I would like to share some of the good work the agency is doing to protect our natural areas in the forest, while providing economic benefits for schools, counties and other beneficiaries.
 
In the last 20 years, DNR has made major changes to its land management strategies to protect habitats for threatened and endangered species. These changes have included dedicating hundreds of thousands of acres of land to long-term habitat protection and establishing thorough environmental reviews of proposed harvests to ensure management practices are environmentally sustainable.
 
One notable change DNR made was to stop harvesting old-growth stands. In 2006, DNR formally banned the practice. At that time, the DNR collaborated with the University of Washington to craft procedures that identify and protect newly-identified, old-growth stands, in addition to any old-growth stands that were known at the time.
 
Another change made by DNR was to replace clear cuts with variable retention harvests. In this harvesting method, special habitats — including riparian areas, wetlands and old-growth stands, among others —  are protected. If you live in Western Washington, then you know how wet it is. DNR ends up protecting a lot of land: For the average 40-acre area that is harvested, there is generally another 20-40 acres that will never be cut for various reasons. In addition, within the harvested area, roughly 10 percent of all trees are left to protect various wildlife features or species. 
 
To give you a sense for the scale of this protection, of the 1,273,000 acres of DNR-managed forested land within the range of the endangered marbled murrelet, an incredible 495,000 acres (39 percent) are under protected status. The reasons for conserving these diverse landscapes include protection for streams, wetlands, potentially unstable slopes, and the presence of habitats for threatened and endangered species.
 
Since 2001, all non-federal forest managers are held to a high standard for timber harvesting and forest road construction. Harvesting on steep slopes requires detailed field evaluation and regulatory review to determine if there is significant risk of slope failure; if so, harvesting is not allowed. In addition, by 2016, all forest landowners are legally required to finish retrofitting their entire forest road networks to ensure that all culverts and stream crossings are capable of withstanding 100-year flooding events. In the last decade, a fraction of all landslides have started on these improved roads; the majority of these landslides have either been naturally caused or have occurred where roads had not yet been upgraded.
 
Another example of DNR’s sustainable management is the collaborative efforts with partners such as King County, Forterra, The Nature Conservancy, The Trust for Public Land and many others to conserve thousands of acres of land as working forests. The majority of these lands have conservation easements that allow timber harvest. This is due to the growing recognition that forest management is compatible with environmental protection.
 
The other point that Mr. Hutchins makes is that the revenues provided from DNR-managed lands are minuscule and irrelevant in today’s world. As a Lewis County commissioner, I have seen firsthand how far this is from realistic. This source of funding is a major component of budgets that have been severely reduced by the recent downturn in the economy. These funds supplement county general fund budgets, as well as the budgets of junior taxing districts such as fire departments, libraries, hospitals, and water and sewer districts, not to mention critical support of K-12 school construction throughout the state. In some counties, this may account for up to 40 percent of their entire operating budget, which provides for essential government services such as law enforcement, jails, courts, and health and human services.
 
Washington state is one of the best places in the world to sustainably grow trees due to its wet climate and volcanic soils. It is also one of the most protective states as far as forest management practices are concerned. While there are still individuals who oppose timber harvesting on public lands, the fact is that environmental groups, regulatory agencies and land managers are increasingly finding common ground in support of working forests because of the tremendous ecological, economic and quality of life benefits they provide for our state.

Lee Grose is an elected member of the Lewis County Commission and serves on the state Board of Natural Resources.


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Comments:

Posted Sun, Mar 9, 11:50 p.m. Inappropriate

I'm glad Mr. Grose weighed in on the topic--it is crucial that we have an open dialogue about this issue of cutting trees to pay for school construction. Hopefully his unsupported suggestion that my "facts" were "misleading or questionable" was an unintentional bid of mud-slinging. It certainly was disappointing because the bulk of facts in my citation-heavy essay came from the DNR itself or OSPI. Typically, such sources are beyond question.
One can only say so much in a short op-ed like these. And I wish I'd been able to say that: 1) I support logging as an essential, traditional full wage job that should be preserved in our local economies, but only when logging does not threaten our salmon runs and habitat for birds and other critters. 2) Likewise, I know full well and agree that timber dollars are the life-blood of many govt services in in rural jurisdictions.
This where Mr. Grose differ though. Just as there is abundant evidence that academic institutions pressure the DNR to get out the board feet, so do rural government agencies who have become dependent upon the money to be gained by logging state lands that belong to citizens statewide. Mr. Grose's suggestion that logging revenues have become even more important since the recent economic "downturn", suggests that representatives like him are pressuring the state for ever more access to the lands.
Finally, the DNR has certainly made improvements in their land management practices, policies, and the promotion of their "environmental" concersn. Surely the men and women who work there care deeply about the land. Just as surely, there are heavy pressures being levied upon the agency to get the cut out that historically have caused the agency to cut corners in adherence to best practices and thereby threatened critical habitat.
Mr. Grose, if you're a steelhead fisherman you are lucky to live in Lewis River Country. Up here, everyone of the "S Rivers" is closed all winter nowadays because of ESA concerns. It is a sad, sad state of affairs...and I blame the DNR and the USFS for almost killing the runs by destroying habitat in search of money for school construction, etc.
Here is to talking further between our two parties.

Posted Sun, Apr 6, 1:20 p.m. Inappropriate

The author is from Lewis County, where severe flooding was made much worse by steep slope clearcutting by Weyerhauser.

The reality is that DNR has always been a handmaiden of the industry. Its familiarly called by those who try to monitor that agency the Department of No Responsibility. Of course, the Forest Practices Act is designed to let the industry run free with minimal oversight. And that includes the agency itself.

Steve E.

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