Public Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark says he hopes to offer some solid answers soon on the fate of thousands of acres of Southwest Washington forestland that has languished as questions about the fate of marbled murrelet have lingered.
Goldmark said several management strategy alternatives for the endangered marbled murrelet will be released this summer.
“This has been a delicate situation,” Goldmark said, speaking after a meeting of editors and publishers in Olympia on Wednesday. “It’s taken time.”
The marbled murrelet is an endangered species that nests in very tall trees located along the coast of Southwest Washington.
Since 2011, the state Department of Natural Resources has put on pause several timber harvests across Wahkiakum and Pacific counties, not because the murrelet was located in those planned timber sales, but because there was a potential for the tiny bird to make its home there some day.
There are about 176,000 acres of state-owned timberland in Wahkiakum and Pacific counties that meet that potential habitat definition. This is land that is not old growth and has been logged before. The land is just old enough and located close enough to the ocean that a murrelet might want to nest there some day.
Because the timber sales haven’t moved forward, it’s been a hit to local taxing districts in those counties, and timber companies, including Sierra Pacific, have objected to the move.
“We are working with the U.S. Department of Fish & Wildlife on our plan,” Goldmark said. “I understand and recognize that these counties get most of their operating income from the harvest of timberland. … The U.S. Department of Fish & Wildlife has asked us not to move forward with these sales.”
Seattle Audubon Society, Conservation Northwest, the Sierra Club, the Washington Environmental Council and the Olympic Forest Coalition have all sent letters in recent years, as well, asking for the sales to be put on pause.
Goldmark noted that recent approved legislation allows his agency to “swap out” land that could be or is marbled murrelet habitat for other timberland in an effort to help reduce the impact of tax revenue lost to counties.
Grays Harbor County manages its own timberland. As a comparison, in 2012, the Grays Harbor Forestry Department did a timber sale on the West Fork of the Wishkah because the trees were getting large enough and tall enough that it might have been considered potential murrelet habitat. Grays Harbor had wanted to sell the timberland earlier, but had to spend two years doing a survey to ensure marbled murrelet weren’t present.