Local officials unhappy with DNR's marbled murrelet plan
September 26, 2019
The Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR) last week released its proposed long-term strategy for managing habitat for marbled murrelets, an endangered seabird which nest in inland forests.
Among many aspects, the proposed updated habitat conservation plan (HCP) would set aside from harvest stands of state managed timber which could provide the large trees the birds need for laying eggs and raising their young. The new HCP would affect state-managed timberlands in Wahkiakum, Pacific, Cowlitz, Clallam, Grays Harbor, Island, Jefferson, King, Kitsap, Lewis, Mason, Pierce, San Juan, Skagit, Snohomish, Thurston, and Whatcom counties. The agency evaluated eight alternatives before making its final choice.
The alternative, Alternative H, will protect 59,000 acres of occupied marbled murrelet sites (areas where murrelets have been sighted) and 58,000 acres of forestland set aside specifically for the bird.
On Tuesday, Wahkiakum County officials expressed dissatisfaction with the chosen alternative, saying it would adversely impact revenue from the county's trust timberlands.
"Alternative H does so little for Wahkiakum County that I wish they'd called it Preparation H," commented Lee Tischer, a member of the Port District 2 board of commissioners.
"Yeah, it's all bogus," said Dan Cothren, chair of the Board of County Commissioners. "It's definitely not going to help Wahkiakum County."
The alternative will restrict harvestable timberland for Wahkiakum and Pacific counties, he said. The alternative does tout improvements to timberlands, but "there are a lot of minuses there" that negate any possible benefits, Cothren said.
The DNR manages 12,000 acres of trust timberland for Wahkiakum County. Revenue from timber harvest is an important part of revenues from basic courthouse services, and the county has already seen 4,000 of those acres set aside for habitat for endangered species. Alternative H would increase that restriction.
Besides chafing at the loss of revenue, county officials say the DNR isn't meeting its legal mandate to manage the timberlands for the best interest of the county.
"The DNR isn't fulfilling its fiduciary responsibility to the trusts," Cothren said.
Commissioners have long wanted to increase the county's timber holdings as a means of stabilizing its budget revenue. The legislature has acknowledged that Wahkiakum, Pacific and Skamania counties have lost revenue from their encumbered lands and for the past few years has provided funding to compensate; Wahkiakum should receive $1 million next year.
Cothren doubts the legislature will continue that funding, and for several years, he has been working with the DNR and other counties to develop legislation that would allow the counties to acquire more timberland to replace the restricted timberland. They hope to have a bill ready for the coming legislative session.
The DNR's proposed update has been submitted to the US Fish and Wildlife Service for review. That agency is supposed to comment on the update by the end of this week.
The final document and additional information about this proposal can be viewed on DNR’s website at: http://www.dnr.wa.gov/long-term-conservation-strategy-marbled-murrelet.