OLYMPIA — The state Department of Natural Resources will assemble a panel of experts to help plan for the future of state forests, Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz said.
Franz, who was elected as DNR’s top official last November, will appoint representatives of the forest industry, environmental community, trust beneficiaries and others to help address social, economic and environmental impacts of the final Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) for the marbled murrelet, agency officials said.
That will affect the 10-year sustainable harvest calculation.
“Obviously, we know this issue is extremely complicated and challenging,” Franz said at the state Board of Natural Resources meeting June 4.
“I believe that if we draw this larger table, we can actually begin to put solutions on the table that get at all of the wins across those spectrums that we are not capable of doing within the smaller HCP process.”
DNR is planning for the long-term conservation of the marbled murrelet, a small seabird that nests in coastal forests, and is also developing a 10-year sustainable harvest calculation.
The intricate planning documents, which are related, will affect timber harvests and the environment for years to come.
Franz, who chairs the six-member Board of Natural Resources, directed DNR staff to assemble a citizens panel to help bridge a “longstanding divide” in timber management that dates back 20 to 40 years.
“I’m not going to say that it’s going to be easy,” Franz said at the meeting. “It’s going to take all of us.”
Next spring, DNR will submit an amendment to the Habitat Conservation Plan to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for murrelet conservation that meets the requirements of the Endangered Species Act and its own state trust mandate.
“Additionally, I’m well aware of the concerns that the proposed alternatives could have significant economic repercussions for our rural communities, while not doing enough to save the murrelet,” Franz said in a June 9 news release.
“So I’ve asked my staff to work with diverse stakeholders to develop additional solutions that would offset economic and community impacts the plan might have, and find creative ways to improve murrelet conservation.”
Clallam County Commissioner Bill Peach, who represents 21 timber counties on the Board of Natural Resources, said he would welcome suggestions from a blue-ribbon panel.
“My preference is that we do actually listen to as many people as possible,” Peach said in a Thursday telephone interview.
“That’s fine and good and well with me, as long as we do that as a parallel activity with making the final recommendation.”
Peach stressed that the Board of Natural Resources is required to mitigate for additional loss of the marbled murrelet, not to plan for its recovery.
“We’re mitigating take,” Peach said when reached by cell phone in Olympia.
“The idea that the DNR is responsible for the recovery of the marbled murrelet is very genuinely outside the scope of the work that we’re doing.”
Clallam and Jefferson counties receive a share of the revenue from timber harvests on DNR-managed trust lands, as do junior taxing districts such as schools, hospitals and fire departments.
Since each of the proposed marbled murrelet conservation strategies would affect the volume of timber that can be harvested, the board is assessing a sustainable harvest calculation for the 2015-2024 planning decade.
The harvest calculation will account for some 462 million board feet of arrearage, or the timber that DNR planned to sell but failed to sell between 2005 and 2014.
By removing the timber from counties that were overharvested, the total arrearage in counties that were undercut was 702 million board feet.
Clallam County and the Olympic Experimental State Forest on the West End had more arrearage than any other other region in the state, according to DNR.
In addition to arrearage, harvest levels in riparian zones will be factored in the next sustainable harvest calculation, DNR Deputy Supervisor for State Uplands Angus Brodie said in a May interview.
DNR received more than 5,200 public comments on the draft environmental impact statement, or EIS, for the marbled murrelet conservation strategy and another 1,300 comments on the sustainable harvest target EIS.
A large number of those comments dealt with marbled murrelet recovery, Peach said.
After the board reaches its decisions on conservation and harvest alternatives, DNR will publish final environmental impact statements next March.
The board is expected to submit an amendment to the Habitat Conservation Plan in April 2018 and adopt final plans in November 2018, according to a timeline provided by Brodie.
Given the amount of information before the board — an economic analysis of the various alternatives was pushed out to the July 6 meeting — Franz suggested a new timeline “recognizing that this has been going on for 20 years and a lot of work and lot of time and thought and leadership has been put in.”
No board members objected to an amended timeline.
Peach said he supported Franz’s proposal to create a forestry committee.
“I firmly believe in transparency, and that’s what you’re advocating, and therefore I support it,” Peach told Franz.
“In the process, though, I want to be very clear about what we can achieve, that we control, and those issues that we cannot.”