by Ashley Bach
The recent closure of four mills on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula has some local leaders wondering what they can do to stem the tide.
In 2014, Interfor closed two West End mills in Beaver and Forks; and Green Creek Wood Products closed its Port Angeles mill. This summer, Allen Logging closed its lumber mill.
Officials in Clallam County say the problem is the State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has had lots of timber authorized to sell over the last 10 years but then doesn’t sell it, a process known as “arrearage.”
The city of Forks says that DNR “was supposed to sell — but didn’t — 247 million board feet of timber on county trust lands in the Olympic region in the past decade,” according to the Peninsula Daily News. Officials at the closed mills say a lack of logs was a factor in the mills shutting down.
The Clallam County Board of Commissioners is so serious about addressing arrearage that last week it formed an advisory committee to study the management of state forest lands in the county. The committee is going to study the possibility of the county taking over the state forest lands from DNR. The committee, if it wanted to move forward, would send the issue to voters. And if they approved, the land transfer would still have to approved by the Legislature.
One of the most outspoken critics of DNR is Forks City Attorney Rod Fleck, who says the county could gain tens of millions of dollars and hundreds of jobs if the backlog of timber was sold by the state.
The issue has been active on the Olympic Peninsula for several months, and State Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark (the head of DNR) was interviewed by the Peninsula Daily News about arrearage in June.
Goldmark said external factors out of DNR’s control contributed to the timber not being sold. Below is an excerpt. Go here for the full interview.
Goldmark said there are several factors behind arrearage.
A DNR science team blocked from harvest a significant amount of state land on the Olympic Experimental State Forest — the area north of Lake Quinault and west of Lake Crescent — and elsewhere to protect the threatened marbled murrelet, a small seabird.
DNR was sued by environmental groups over a pair of sales of 55-year-old timber not identified by the scientists as marbled murrelet habitat.
“To say that we’re against a lot of forces that are proposing that habitat for murrelet is supreme to anything else is an understatement,” Goldmark said.
“We’ve got a big fight on our hands just trying to harvest even where the science team says we can, let alone where they say we can’t,” he added.
“That’s been a major, major issue that’s prevented us from meeting the sustainable harvest that was mapped out in 2004.”
Goldmark, who was elected in 2008 and took office in 2009, said massive layoffs early in his tenure limited the agency’s ability to manage sales during the recession.
“It’s taken two or three years post that crash to be able to just build up the revenue to be able to hire the staff to where I can now be fully engaged on doing that long-term management strategy,” he said.
“That’s been a huge issue.”
The state is taking a tougher look at the timber backlog:
To address arrearage problem, Goldmark has assembled a two-member subcommittee of the six-member state Board of Natural Resources to make recommendations to the full board.
The subcommittee is composed of Clallam County Commissioner Jim McEntire and Thomas DeLuca, University of Washington School of Environmental and Forest Sciences director.
“We’re at work trying to come up with a framework and policy decisions that the board is going to have to take up,” McEntire said.
“I’m going to push for addressing the arrearage and working down the arrearage to zero as soon as feasible, and then working with Tom and the department, devising a methodology for preventing future arrearages.”
This post originally appeared on the Washington Forest Protection Association website.