Perspective: DNR moving forward with cutting Ludlow old growth while “protecting” other areas

The confusing balancing act of Washington State Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz and Jefferson County environmentalists and politicians has continued over the last month. Franz runs the Department of Natural Resources (DNR). First, a bit of background:

The Olympic Forest Coalition, which has been working hard to protect forests for decades, and includes some of the most well respected Democratic activists in the county, has issued written concerns to DNR and the County Commissioners about logging of old growth near Port Ludlow. Ludlow has seen a huge upturn in large clear-cut parcels in the last year. A drive along Paradise Bay road recently showed huge swaths cut on both sides of the road east of Ludlow.

The OFC wrote a letter to county commissioners stating:”…. request your assistance on how best to approach the BOCC on a timber sale of concern, the Beaver Valley Sorts sale near Port Ludlow, and I believe in your district. The sale has been recommended by the DNR staff to the Board of Natural Resources and will be on the BNR agenda April 5th [https://www.dnr.wa.gov/publications/em_bc_bnr_agenda_04052022.pdf ].  OFCO is very concerned that this sale contains unique plant associations remaining in our area, is an important sequester of carbon and provides resiliency in the face of climate change, and contains stands that DNR is required to conserve under the multi species Habitat Conservation Plan.”

The county commissioners then issued a letter to DNR on April 4th stating:

April 4, 2022
To: Commissioner Hilary Franz
Deputy Supervisor Angus Brodie
Board of Natural Resources
From: Jefferson County Board of County Commissioners
RE: Beaver Valley Sorts timber harvest
Commissioner, Mr. Brodie and Board Members,
The Jefferson County Board of County Commissioners( BOCC) appreciates your partnership in managing
Washington State’ s resource lands for the many benefits they convey, and we recognize the
complexity that presents in your policy- and decision- making.
We are writing to ask you to not approve and defer the Beaver Valley Sorts timber sale before the Board
on Tuesday, April 5, 2022. We ask this given the other, important work that DNR is engaged in
which will ultimately inform this sale and others like it in the future. Specifically, we would like to
delay this sale for the following reasons:
Jefferson County highly values the myriad ecosystem functions that our forests serve, especially carbon
sequestration as we see the impacts of climate change accelerating. We implore DNR and the Board of
Natural Resources to finalize a calculation of sequestered and emitted carbon to use in analysis of all
future timber sales and harvests.
(emphasis mine)
The Trust Land Transfer proviso work group is currently working to provide pathways for communities
like ours to identify the trust lands most suitable for harvest and those better suited to conservation.
We would like to see the outcomes of their work before any harvest commences on diverse, mature
forests such those in the Beaver Valley Sorts units.
While these are specific concerns related to the Beaver Valley Sorts timber sale, they are indicative of
broader, structural and existential concerns that we have about how our State’ s trust lands are held
and managed. Simply put, funding schools, libraries, emergency services and other essential
services with industrial forest practices is outdated and needs to be reconsidered.
We recognize forestry as an important economic and cultural driver in the state of Washington, but see
enormous opportunity for innovation in how state- owned lands are managed. Whether it is variable
retention harvest, or the selling of carbon credits, or development of specialty forestry products,
alternatives to clear-cutting exist. Jefferson County will gladly partner with DNR in exploring new
and alternative forest practices that don’ t pit funding of essential services with protecting our
environment. That is a zero- sum game in which nobody wins.

As this letter was being delivered, Commissioner Franz decided to temporarily pull the Beaver Valley Sorts and push it’s sale further into the summer. But it is not off the table to be sold.

Franz simultaneously was meeting with a select group of environmental orgs and Tribes from the south and east sides of the Sound. On April 4th DNR announced:

DNR to Announce First-of-its-Kind Carbon Project on State Trust Lands

Project will preserve thousands of acres of Western Washington’s most ecologically valuable forests, offset carbon emissions, and generate millions of dollars in revenue for schools and counties throughout the state

OLYMPIA – Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz will unveil a historic carbon project on state trust lands on Wednesday morning that will offset hundreds of thousands of metric tons of emissions by protecting thousands of acres of Western Washington’s most ecologically valuable forests.

Franz will be joined by Tribal leaders, environmental advocates, and carbon market industry experts to discuss the unprecedented approach DNR is undertaking and potential to reset, and serve as a model for, carbon markets throughout the country.

Project areas in Whatcom, Thurston, King, and Grays Harbor counties will be used to sequester carbon and generate revenue for state trust land beneficiaries through carbon markets.

DNR media release

Mysteriously missing from this decision, was any inclusion of Jefferson County forest lands. The question is “why?”

With a letter in hand and years of work between Jefferson County and Ms. Franz (who has attended the Jefferson County Democratic Fish Fry numerous times), she appears to have ignored any opportunity to work with the county to protect its forests in this carbon project. Questions remain: Why were those counties chosen and not anything from Jefferson County? Why was their no discussion between DNR and Jefferson County Commissioners before making this announcement? Why was the Beaver Valley Sorts sale taken off the table just as this announcement was happening and pushed to mid-summer?

In a scathing editorial in the Seattle Times, Former DNR Commissioner Peter Goldmark and Mary Jean Ryan, a member of the board of the Center for Responsible Forestry and served as chair and as a member of the Washington State Board of Education from 2006-2014, stated this:

While creating a small carbon reserve with a few thousand acres of older forests is crucial to begin climate mitigation in state forests, this action is in stark contrast to DNR’s timber harvest plans. Under current state policy, older forests are being clear-cut at an alarming rate. (emphasis mine) Over the next year, the DNR has plans to log more than 5,000 acres of older forests that have similar characteristics to those identified for the carbon reserve. Since there are many younger plantations of trees available for harvest on DNR-managed lands, this choice to preferentially log older forests undermines the very goals and values expressed by Commissioner Hilary Franz on April 6. This glaring contradiction should be resolved. The DNR and the Board of Natural Resources should take swift action to abandon the plan to clear-cut these valuable older forests.

… Thankfully, communities from Bellingham to Olympia and to the Olympic Peninsula are mobilizing and organizing to save these treasured forests. We strongly believe that these forests should be conserved and not logged. We reject the idea that the state needs to log these forests to pay for important public services.

https://www.seattletimes.com/opinion/save-washingtons-legacy-forests-to-save-ourselves/

Meanwhile:

Goldmark and others said they were surprised by the policy because Conservation Northwest, the Washington Environmental Council and other plaintiffs have taken a lawsuit all the way to the State Supreme Court to argue the DNR has the authority to consider values beyond dollars when determining management of state lands not only for trust beneficiaries, but for all the people of Washington. A decision on the case is expected any time.

https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/wa-to-preserve-10000-acres-of-trees-to-sell-as-carbon-credits-to-polluters/

Why the sudden decision on the eve of a lawsuit by environmental groups that are well respected? Politics?

Commissioner Franz has in the past used Jefferson County for fundraising for her campaigns. There are persistent rumors of her possibly mounting a campaign for governor. Her recent fundraising during a year when she is not running for office is interesting in light of these rumors. Her haphazard approach to this issue seems to be attempting to burnish her creds as environmentalist while angering some of her former supporters. That no discussions were held by the Commissioner with those who’s support she usually is asking for when raising funds, is puzzling in the least.

The Olympic Peninsula Environmental News will continue to follow this very confusing story.

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