Today, the Washington Board of Natural Resources adopted two new management plans for state forest trust lands that will reduce timber harvests on Department of Natural Resources (DNR) managed trust lands. As an advocate for DNR trust land management, the American Forest Resource Council (AFRC) is concerned that the harvest reductions will directly harm rural jobs and decrease funding for public schools, fire departments, libraries, hospitals and other community services. AFRC is also concerned these plans conflict with DNR’s legal obligations to manage state trust lands to harvest timber at sustainable levels for trust beneficiaries.
The Board of Natural Resources voted to adopt a Long Term Conservation Strategy (LTCS) for the marbled murrelet and a Sustainable Harvest Calculation (SHC) that, taken together, will reduce annual harvest levels on DNR trust lands by 85 million board feet over the next several years according to DNR. This is over 15 percent below the levels adopted in the previous decade—an across-the-board cut that AFRC estimates will result in the annual loss of almost $30 million in timber revenues to support public services and agency management costs.
The harvest reductions will also result in the loss of hundreds of jobs in rural communities across western Washington. Studies from the Pacific Northwest have shown that 11 direct private sector jobs in the forest products sector are generated by every million board feet of timber harvest. An 85 million board foot reduction in timber harvests equates to 935 lost jobs.
AFRC President Travis Joseph says this harvest reduction will not only harm rural communities, but it is in direct conflict with the DNR’s trust mandate to support hospitals, schools, counties and other beneficiaries.
“Officials in Olympia talk about the importance of ‘working forests’ and sustainable timber harvests to supporting public education, community services, rural jobs, and providing Washington-grown wood products, but these plans take the state in the opposite direction,” Joseph said. “Throughout this process, AFRC, county governments and other beneficiaries repeatedly raised concerns about setting aside wide swaths of trust lands for speculative conservation gains but enormous costs to those who depend on the management of these forests for the many benefits they provide. AFRC and the beneficiaries constructively provided reasonable alternatives to help the DNR achieve its conservation objectives, but those alternatives were ignored in favor of a plan that hurts Washingtonians, while failing to support vulnerable species.”
Joseph said the LTCS set-asides don’t help the murrelet because DNR is reserving large areas of young, previously managed forests that experts say will never become habitat for the seabird. DNR misapplied a computer model to identify and evaluate murrelet habitat for its conservation strategy when field reviews found these lands consist of second- and third-growth forests that lack suitable habitat. The LTCS also failed to recognize the conservation benefit of tens of thousands of acres of murrelet habitat already set aside under the 1997 Habitat Conservation Plan – a plan that came at a great financial cost to the beneficiaries of state trust lands.
With the adoption of the LTCS and the SHC, DNR has now set aside a majority of the state trust lands in western Washington. According to Joseph, this means over half of all forested state lands will no longer be managed to support rural economies and generate revenue for trust land beneficiaries as required by law.
“We’re disappointed,” Joseph said. “These actions pile on to already struggling rural communities and will threaten the ability of some beneficiaries – like rural fire districts – to provide essential public services moving forward. AFRC will be working with elected officials and fellow stakeholders on next steps to ensure these trust lands continue working for Washingtonians and the beneficiaries these lands support.”