Call it the big three of arrearage.
The marbled murrelet, riparian zones and staffing levels are the main reasons why the state Department of Natural Resources failed to sell 92 million board feet of timber that was supposed to be sold in Clallam County from 2005-2014, a top DNR official told the Clallam County Trust Lands Advisory Committee on March 25.
The 20-member panel is gathering information to determine whether Clallam County should reclaim management of 92,525 acres of DNR-managed forest lands in the county.
Kyle Blum, DNR deputy supervisor for state uplands, explained the nuances of arrearage from the agency’s point of view in a four-hour, 40-minute meeting at the county courthouse.
Statewide, DNR sold about 5 billion board feet of the 5.5 billion board feet that it identified for sale in the last 10-year sustainable harvest calculation, leaving 462 million board feet in arrears.
Revenue generated from timber sales is crucial to timber counties and junior taxing districts such as schools, hospitals, libraries and fire departments.
Protections for the marbled murrelet, a threatened seabird that nests in coastal forests, has substantially reduced timber harvests in Clallam County’s West End, Blum said.
DNR established its harvest target before a technical science team published a key report on marbled murrelets in 2008, he said.
Recommendations in the report prompted DNR to defer timber sales in the Olympic Experimental State Forest, a highly complex harvest unit on the west sides of Clallam and Jefferson counties.
“Since the middle of 2011, the department has only conducted, I believe, four timber sales in these marbled murrelet management areas that span a couple hundred thousand acres in southwest Washington and the Olympic Experimental State Forest,” Blum said.
The state Board of Natural Resources is in the process of adopting a long-term strategy for murrelet protection and a new 10-year sustainable harvest calculation, Blum said.
The board also will consider several options for arrearage, including proportional distribution for affected counties, selling off the arrearage or incorporating the 462 million board feet into the forest inventory.
Clallam County Commissioner Bill Peach represents 21 timber counties on the six-member DNR board. He replaced former Clallam County Commissioner Jim McEntire, who convened an arrearage subcommittee last year.
Riparian zones along fish-bearing streams are protected from harvests by buffer zones.
With the adoption of a riparian forest restoration strategy, DNR harvested just 39 million of the 393 million board feet that was identified for sale in riparian areas in the past decade.
“That’s going to be a huge contributor to the arrearage on the Clallam County forest trust lands,” Blum said. “The reasons for that are many and you would get a different one if you asked different people who are really in the know on this. If you asked me, I think you’re going to hear a lot about not having a riparian forest restoration strategy. And then when we got one, we started to learn that it was quite a bit too complicated to be implementing consistently and in a cost-effective manner.
“What we have found is that a large number of foresters are simply choosing not to go through the time and effort to put up a riparian prescription because the number of visits from the biologists or the geologists or the cultural specialists or whoever,” Blum added. “It’s just going to be so much time for not that much volume that they’re choosing to focus on the upland areas, get the sale done and move on to the next one.”
DNR cut staff in its Olympic Region when the recession hit in 2008 but added employees in 2011 and 2012.
The agency had 40 staffers in the Olympic Region in 2008 compared to more than 60 today.
Eighty-three percent of the agency’s field staff have less than three years of experience, Blum said.
“I think we’ve got to have a serious conversation about the number of staff that we have on the ground and the experience level of those staff,” Blum told the committee.
“I hemorrhage staff at an alarming rate.”
The Clallam County Trust Lands Advisory Committee will make a recommendation to the board of county commissioners by the end of this year.
If forest management is reconveyed to Clallam County, timber sales still would be subject to the State Environmental Policy Act and the federal Endangered Species Act.
Tom Swanson, Green Crow vice president and Republican Party representative on the committee, said the statewide arrearage since the northern spotted owl was listed as endangered in 1990 is somewhere between 2 billion and 3 billion board feet.
“I think that’s important to point out,” Swanson said.
“We’re a symptom of a larger problem. To take 2005 to 2015 is a fraction of the actual arrearage.”
Mike Doherty, a former county commissioner and the Democratic Party representative on the committee, requested more information about the ancillary values of forests as they relate to climate change and sustainable communities.
“There is, I think, kind of an overpowering point of view to do things as we’ve always done them,” Doherty said. “At some time, I think we owe the public a consideration of the bigger picture, including these values that are not just harvests — delayed harvest, litigation protection, questionable slope logging, a lot of things, putting on more value, longer rotations.
“So at least for a layman in this group, I would appreciate some sort of an objective point of view on some of these other items,” Doherty said.
Later in the meeting, Doherty questioned the procedures that led to the committee’s formation and suggested that some of its members have not disclosed conflicts of interests such as service on the boards of private timber companies.
Some members disclosed their backgrounds and objected to Doherty’s inferences.
The trust lands committee consists of members of the forest products industry, environmental groups, junior taxing districts, municipal governments and political parties.
Arrearage has been blamed in part for the 2014 closure of the Interfor sawmill in Beaver, Interfor planer mill in Forks, Green Creek mill in west Port Angeles and the 2015 closure of the Allen Logging Co. mill in west Jefferson County.
“We’re saying 92 million board feet in arrearage in Clallam County,” said Gabe Rygaard of Rygaard Logging. “Ask yourself this question: If we had that 92 million feet, would we have those jobs that we’ve lost?”
Rygaard, who testified at the end of the meeting, said 60 percent of his business comes from state-managed lands.
Rygaard’s Port Angeles company is featured prominently on the History channel’s long-running “Ax Men” TV series.
“Skip all your environmental concerns and everything else. There’s a lot of people out this door that don’t have a job today,” Rygaard said.
“So when you’re thinking about all of this, reconveyance and everything else, you need to think about this: It’s hard to survive in an industry with a noose wrapped around your neck.”
Rob Ollikainen is a reporter with the Olympic Peninsula News Group, which is composed of Sound Publishing newspapers Peninsula Daily News, Sequim Gazette and Forks Forum. He can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56450, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.