A Washington state board has approved a multi-decade agreement to manage 1.63 million acres of state-owned timber as an integrated ecosystem rather than tract-by-tract and hillside-by-hillside.
In exchange, the state Department of Natural Resources will be allowed to log the land with the certainty that changing regulations will not impede harvests in future years.
Approval came Tuesday over objections by environmental and business interests, both of which said the agreement was too risky.
Voting 4-2, the Board of Natural Resources signed the state’s first “habitat conservation plan,” an approach to logging embraced by several large timber companies in the past year as a way to do business within the constraints of the federal Endangered Species Act.
The agreement, which would be in effect for at least 70 years with a renewal option of up to 30 years, still must be signed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service. Their signatures are expected in December, state officials said.
Lands Commissioner Jennifer Belcher said the action was good news. She said it will mean beneficiaries of money earned from the timber, primarily public schools and universities, will be assured a more steady income. “We won’t be subjected to regulations that come with each new listing of a threatened or endangered species,” she said.
Belcher also asserted that the agreement “provides much greater protection to the fish and wildlife of the state because it requires us to think in terms of whole ecosystems as we go about forestry management.”
But not everybody agreed.
“I am not convinced that the proposed HCP as agreed to … is in either the immediate or long-term interests of the trust beneficiaries,” said David B.Thorud, a board member who voted against the plan. “The board should not commit to a 70- to 100-year legally binding contract considering the numerous legal, fiduciary and ecological issues that have repeatedly been raised but still not satisfactorily addressed.”
The plan also was faulted by the Washington Environmental Council, which lobbies for a score of environmental groups.
“The environmental community has always supported long-term, ecosystem management. Unfortunately, as it is currently written, the plan guarantees a lifetime of logging, while gambling with public resources, such as clean water, wildlife and salmon,” the WEC said.
Some counties and school districts previously have said they would go to the state Supreme Court in an effort to block the plan on grounds it jeopardizes a revenue source.