Plan would increase state logging 35 percent - Enviros may sue to block it

Rebecca Cook - Associated Press


OLYMPIA, WA-- Logging on state lands could increase by about 35 percent over the next two decades, under a plan tentatively approved by the six-member Board of Natural Resources on Tuesday.

Board members said they hope the new approach will finally end the bitter timber wars of the 1990s, when state and federal regulators sharply curtailed logging to protect spotted owls and salmon.

But a truce remains elusive. Environmental leaders attacked the plan on Monday, and said they may sue to block it.

Public Lands Commissioner Doug Sutherland says the state can have it both ways: increase logging and improve the forest environment. The logging plan, if it wins final board approval this summer, will be the main achievement of Sutherland's four years in office.

Sutherland oversees 2.1 million acres of forest trust land in Washington state. In a deal set up at statehood, the state sells logging rights on the land. The revenue pays for school construction and local county government needs such as libraries, hospitals and fire districts.

The new logging plan would increase the annual harvest from 470 million board feet this year to an average of 554 million board feet in the first decade, and 636 million board feet in the second decade. It takes about 15,000 board feet of lumber to build a 2,000-square-foot home, according to the National Association of Home Builders.

Net revenue for the trusts would increase by $230 million in the first decade and $528 million in the second decade, according to DNR's projections, for a total of $1.5 billion over the first decade.

That's great news to the schools, rural counties and businesses that rely on timber harvests on state trust lands.

"This is a survival issue," said Dave Ivanoff of Hampton Lumber. "We can do an outstanding job of growing and harvesting wood and also maintaining the environment."

"School trust lands should be used to benefit the schools, and not all these other purposes people want to use them for," said Quent Goodrich, vice president of the state School Directors Association and a school board director in Chimacum, on the Olympic Peninsula. "We support the direction DNR is going."

Officials from the state Department of Fish and Wildlife -- who have not hesitated in the past to criticize DNR policies they think could hurt fish or wildlife -- said Tuesday they're comfortable with the new logging target, especially because the plan is to increase the annual harvest gradually.

But Tuesday's board meeting was packed with people worried that the increased logging would wreak havoc on the environment.

"They're talking about increasing the logging level by about 35 percent. For species that need older-age forests, that's bad news," said Tim Cullinan, science officer for the Audubon Society of Washington. Specifically, he said spotted owls, marbled murrelets and woodpeckers would suffer.

"It will be a huge step backward, and a scientifically and legally perilous one as well," Peter Goldman, director of the Washington Forest Law Center, told the board. "Your decision would sell out future generations."

He and other environmental group leaders said they would consider a lawsuit if the board adopts the logging plan.

Sutherland and DNR officials say the logging-versus-environment debate is a false choice. Most state trust forests are now in what's called the "competitive exclusion" phase -- unnaturally crowded, dark and prone to insect outbreaks and fire.


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