MAY 5, 1997

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Counties may have chance to claim state forest lands DNR opposes

state forest lands by Andrew Walgamott, staff reporter
One quarter of all Washington state forests could be turned over to county ownership if SB 5325 is signed by Governor Gary Locke. The transfer would affect 61,687 acres of state Forest Board Transfer lands in Snohomish County and 22,800 acres in King County, including the Markworth Forest behind Duvall and on the border of both counties.
   "The trees are big and healthy now and the counties want them back," Sandy Rudnick, an information officer with the DNR, said, summing up the situation.
   Two counties, Clallam and Lewis, have been interested in reclaiming Forest Board Transfer lands, timberlands that had been logged off, burned over, and left for stump during the early part of the century. Foreclosed on, the lands were more than counties could manage and were turned over to the state in 1934. Now, there are more than 545,000 acres of Forest Board Transfer lands in western Washington, in 50 forest areas. The acres are scattered, some places in a checkerboard pattern with private lands and other state lands. Elsewhere, the acres are in cohesive units.
   Since the 1930s, the state has managed the lands for timber harvest. Money from the sales has gone to the State General Fund, with counties receiving revenue from timber sales. Last year, $262 million was generated from sales, with $94 million returned to the counties, according to a Seattle Post-Intelligencer article.
   There are nine categories state lands are held in. In Snohomish County, Forest Board Transfer lands make up the largest trust lands. Across the state, Forest Board lands are the second largest trust. There are four main blocks in the county, including the Markworth Forest east of Duvall (and partially in King County), Sultan-Pilchuck Forest north of Sultan, Jordan Road properties near Granite Falls, and Ebbey Hill forest east of Arlington.
   "There's a lot of merchantible timber in those four areas, especially in the Sultan-Pilchuck tract," said Mark Morrow, a DNR spokesperson out of Sedro Wooley. He estimated the dollar value as in the "millions."
   In King County, there are three main blocks of Forest Board Transfer land, including Tiger Mountain, Granite Creek near North Bend, and the Enumclaw Block. The Tiger Mountain Forest was excempted from this proposed conveyance. Of the nearly 62,000 acres of board land in Snohomish County, 35,000 acres of timber are 50 years old or more.
   "Snohomish County is looking real good in the oldest most mature group [of trees]," said Morrow.
   But all is not well within the forest community. The DNR opposes the conveyance of lands back to the counties.
   Jennifer Belcher, Commissioner of Public Lands, has sent Gov. Locke a letter asking him to veto SB 5325. She cites jobs and recreational opportunities as being endangered if the lands are transferred to counties.
   "This legislation would dismantle a carefully managed state forest system that supports the multiple objectives served by these lands. It could force the DNR to re-draft or breach its Habitat Conservation Plan. A fragmented land base would place greater responsibility for habitat protection on the remaining trust lands, resulting in lower sustainable harvest and revenue levels for schools and universities," Belcher writes. Fire fighting capabilities across the state would be hurt as well.
   "This legislation will greatly reduce the department's ability to fight forest fires by reducing the availibility of experienced, certified fire teams and fire leaders, placing a heavy burden on local fire districts and placing many who live in or near forest areas at risk to life and property," Belcher writes.
   Snohomish County isn't interested in the lands, according to County Councilman John Garner. He represents Granite Falls and Darrington, timber dependent towns, and serves on the Timber County Steering Committee. He said the county is happy with the state's management of the forests.
   "We are at this point satisfied with the way the DNR has handled Forest Board lands and to assume those responsibilities would be a huge effort," Garner said.
   "I just think the DNR is doing a good job putting up with federal problems [such as the] spotted owl, marbled murrelet, and salmon. More board feet were harvested [last year] than in quite a while. Counties taking over Forest Board lands would not see much of a jump in revenue, either. Just by reconveying the lands wouldn't produce any more revenue for the counties," said Morrow. He said legislation would be needed to change financial stakes. Governor Locke has until May 20th to sign or veto the legislation.