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

Natural resources board picks plan for marbled murrelet management


November 16, 2017

Washington's Board of Natural Resources (BNR) on Nov. 7 selected its preferred alternative for management of marbled murrelet habitat on state-managed trust timberlands.

Started in 1997, the habitat conservation plan (HCP) is meant to preserve habitat for the endangered species, which lays eggs on large mossy branches in old trees. According to a Department of Natural Resources (DNR) news release, the alternative "is intended to provide long-term certainty for murrelet conservation practices, and for public services and local jobs that rely on revenue from timber harvests on state trust lands."

Wahkiakum County has 12,000 acres of DNR managed trust timberland; of those acres, 3,000 have been pulled from harvest. Revenue from timber harvest is important to county budgets, and county commissioners have been closely following the development of the HCP. Commissioners fear the HCP will further reduce harvest revenue.

This week, Commissioner Dan Cothren expressed disappointment in the preferred choice of the BNR. He testified before the board made its decision and recommended an alternative that would have restricted less land from logging than under the board's alternative.

"They picked an alternative that the board basically came up with," Cothren said. "The economic impact was just a real minor consideration."

In his testimony, Cothern pointed out that few murrelets have been sighted in the county timber, and that was in the 1990's. There are none present now, he said.

"With the decline of the bird, this land is just sitting there," he said. "We've lost the revenue from mature timber. We're increasing habitat for what? It's not right just to do it for speculation."

According to the DNR news release, the selection of a preferred alternative sets up further work to be completed over the next one to two years.

DNR will prepare a draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement assessing the preferred alternative and submit a draft Habitat Conservation Plan Amendment to the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) by the spring of 2018. Both documents will include an opportunity for public comment.

After consideration by the USFWS — their final response is expected in 2019 — the BNR will adopt a final Marbled Murrelet Long Term Conservation Strategy. The final strategy may change based on public comments, input from the USFWS and any relevant scientific data.

The release also says the agency recognizes the HCP affects timber communities.

"In coming weeks, the Commissioner of Public Lands Hillary Franz will be calling together a Solutions Table made up of representatives of local governments, beneficiaries, industry and conservationists," the release says. "The group will be tasked with finding ways to support the counties that have been and will continue to be experiencing economic hardship as a consequence of murrelet conservation. Additionally, the group will propose ways to aid in the recovery of the marbled murrelet outside of the legally defined Habitat Conservation Plan."

"We have limited room in the HCP alternative to find solutions between two legal requirements: that we protect the murrelet under the Endangered Species Act and that we meet a fiduciary obligation to deliver revenues to trust beneficiaries," Franz is quoted.


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