OLYMPIA – The state Department of Natural Resources is strapped for cash as it recovers from a series of economic calamities that caused major budget cuts and job losses.
In a meeting with The Olympian editorial board Wednesday, state Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark said the agency is reeling from a perfect storm of events that includes:
• The agency’s fund balance being spent down to $1.3 million when he took office in January; it was $30.4 million in 2000.
• The economic recession and ensuing slump in housing starts knocking major holes in the agency’s timber revenue, which is predicted to be down $32.2 million in the 2009-11 biennium, a 24 percent reduction.
• DNR’s total, two-year budget is $268 million, a 17 percent reduction from the past two years.
Nearly 200 jobs from a work force of 1,576 positions have been eliminated, including 88 layoffs and 108 jobs left vacant.
“We’ve probably moved more people out the door than any other agency,” Goldmark said.
He is banking on breakthroughs in energy production from woody debris and overstocked forests to help fuel a new biomass industry that could produce revenue for DNR and provide a major new source of energy for the region.
State legislation passed this year authorizes DNR to launch two pilot projects – one on each side of the Cascade mountains – to turn wood waste and excess, immature and diseased trees into energy.
The deadline for the project proposal is Friday, and so far, response has been good, Goldmark said. However, funding remains a question mark for the two pilot projects.
On other fronts, Goldmark said:
• There have been 50 percent more fires than normal this wildfire season. The acreage total isn’t much more than the total burned at this point in a typical year.
“Our goal has been to attack the fires aggressively before they grow,” he said.
• Widespread discharge of firearms on state lands, including Capitol State Forest, could be a thing of the past in the foreseeable future.
Goldmark said he favors designated shooting areas that separate firearms use, excluding hunting, from other recreational activities on state forestlands.
In addition, initial results of a DNR investigation to identify areas where commercial shellfish operations are encroaching on state tidelands in Puget Sound should be completed this fall, said Bridget Moran, a DNR deputy supervisor.
John Dodge: 360-754-5444