The Wahkiakum County Eagle - Established as The Skamokawa Eagle in 1891

By Rick Nelson
Wah. Co. Eagle 

Improved log prices boosting county timber revenue

 


Wahkiakum County officials got some good financial news Tuesday.

Treasurer Tammy Peterson reported that the Department of Natural Resources has estimated the county will receive an extra $763,000 this year in revenue from the harvest of timber off state managed county trust timberland.

The timber market has gone up significantly in the past year, she said; log buyers are paying much more for logs.

The DNR has revised estimated revenue for 2013 from $1.26 million to $2.024 million, Peterson said.

Auditor Diane Tischer has recommended that the board of commissioners adjust the county's budgets to reflect the expected new revenue. There are also some other adjustments that need to be made, she said.

County commissioners didn't indicate they would increase spending if they had new revenue.

However, they indicated they would, if possible, spend a portion of the new revenue to buy more timberland. For the past decade, commissioners have been working with the DNR, other counties with timber trusts, and state legislature to increase timber revenues.

Wahkiakum, Pacific and Skamania counties have split a past appropriation from the legislature to compensate the counties for trust timberland that has been withdrawn from logging to become endangered species habitat. The counties, DNR and legislature have agreed to form a combined trust to purchase new timberland and share revenue on a prorated basis. This year's Capitol Budget includes an appropriation for that purpose, said Commissioner Dan Cothren.

However, the plan is in danger, he added. Skamania County has a new commissioner who has said he would rather see his county's share go to its cash strapped general fund.

"I understand where he's coming from," Cothren said. "They don't need to get revenue off county land.

"But we have to buy timberland to sustain this county. That's our goal. With all the resources we have here, the county should be self sufficient."

Cothren added that recent developments among owners of timberland make this an opportune time for the counties to purchase timberland. Longview Timberlands has agreed to sell its holdings to Weyerhaeuser Company, and the county could easily acquire some new land once that purchase is completed.

"The opportunity is there; we need to act on it," commented commission Chair Blair Brady.

There may be legal hurdles for the county to purchase timberland.

Prosecuting Attorney Dan Bigelow has been doing some research and found that counties are generally prohibited from investing in real estate.

"We can call it something different than real estate and see if we can do it," he said. "You're going to find it difficult. It may require going to the legislature.

"We're fiduciaries--we're not supposed to be taking risks," he said.

Commissioners suggested the county could work with the DNR, which can purchase land for timber harvest.

"That makes sense," Bigelow said. "They can make decisions about investing in timber that we can't."

 

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