The state Department of Natural Resources is working through the process of calculating sustainable timber harvest levels for the next 10 years, as well as developing a marbled murrelet conservation strategy.
The measures will affect timber counties that rely on revenue from the harvests to pay for infrastructure, such as schools and fire departments.
Bob Redling, public information officer of state lands and timber sales for Natural Resources, said there are no major differences in the sustainable harvest calculations from current levels.
However, he said, once implemented, they will be major policy documents.
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“It kind of indicates how much volume, ultimately funds, we’ll be pulling in,” he said.
According to Natural Resources documents, the state manages around 1.4 million acres of forested state trust lands in Western Washington.
Of this, around 620,000 are already conserved to protect the environment of the marbled murrelet and other threatened and endangered species, including the spotted owl.
The marbled murrelet, a bird that spends most of its life on coastal marine waters from Alaska to Central California, nests up to 55 miles inland in mature, old-growth forests.
The species was listed as threatened in 1992 and the population has been declining by 4.4 percent each year. It was recently classified as endangered.
Natural Resources documents said the bird’s population has declined most dramatically in Washington. Reasons for this may include loss of nesting habitat, changes in the marine environment and food, and an increased density of nest predators.
The marbled murrelet prefers to nest in healthy old-growth forests away from open spaces that provide protection from predators.
Natural Resources is looking at five alternatives for its 10-year plan. Every plan would add acreage to the conservation areas. Alternative A would make no substantial changes.
Alternative B, which Lewis County Commissioner Gary Stamper has said he prefers, would set aside an additional 10,000 acres.
Options C through E would set aside between 51,000 acres and 57,000 acres, while option F would reserve an additional 151,000 acres.
Becky Kelley, president of the Washington Environmental Council, said her organization prefers option F.
“We are interested in seeing a more conservation-oriented alternative that allows this species to survive. But, we’re also really looking to work with local communities on local solutions that are going to work for them as well,” Kelley said.
Though option F sets aside far more old-growth forest for conservation, Kelley said, it would still allow some 25,000 acres of marbled murrelet habitat to be harvested.
From her perspective, she said, this is still too much marbled murrelet habitat to be harvested.
Natural Resources postponed implementing a conservation plan in 2005 and, since then, the population of the birds in the state has declined by 44 percent.
Kelley took issue with the way the state’s land trusts operate, whereby counties receive only revenue from harvestable acreage within their counties.
Because marbled murrelet habitat tends to be highly concentrated, it leads to situations where some counties are disproportionately affected by conservation efforts. This leads to what she views as a false dichotomy, where funding for county services is pitted against endangered species.
State conservation strategies directly affect the amount of harvestable timberland, and the comment period for the state’s 2015 through 2024 sustainable harvest calculation closed Thursday.
Bill Peach is vice chairman of the Board of Natural Resources and represents the 21 timber counties in the state. As such, he has a fiduciary responsibility to lobby for their interests.
Peach is also a Clallam County commissioner with 27 years of experience in the timber industry, managing some 200,000 acres of forestland.
He said he is waiting to read the comments garnered from the counties he represents, but has an idea of what he may find in them.
“Rural counties that really need their timber revenue, I expect that they’re going to say that is very important to us,” he said.