The race for state public lands commissioner pits two Eastern Washington ranchers. Delete “rancher,” and there is little else in common.
Incumbent Democrat Peter Goldmark went from a one-room Okanogan schoolhouse to earn doctorates and post-doctorate degrees in biology from the University of California-Berkeley and Harvard University.
Challenger Clint Didier earned a degree at Portland State University, but did his graduate work in the National Football League, where he earned two Super Bowl rings. A tea party Republican, Didier called for eliminating the U.S. Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency when he ran for the U.S. Senate two years ago.
He has little use for the way Goldmark has managed nearly 6 million acres of forest, farmland and aquatic areas since he was elected in 2008. Failure to harvest bug-infested trees fostered this summer’s fires, he says, and deprived state trusts of badly needed funds.
The Department of Natural Resources, which the commissioner heads, is dispirited, says Didier, who also criticizes Goldmark for getting into a fight with Attorney General Rob McKenna and the Okanogan Public Utilities District over a proposed transmission line.
Goldmark has ready responses to all those claims.
He notes that in a 2011 survey of state employees, DNR workers expressed greater satisfaction than their peers in all but one of 16 categories including overall satisfaction. Tight department finances forced him to lay off 10 percent of department workers when he took office in 2009, cut travel by 80 percent and sell 250 vehicles and one airplane. A group he formed last year has developed a warning system for diseased forests, and the department has begun to let contracts for restoration of land riddled with invasive species like bug-prone Douglas and grand fir.
More importantly, timber sales that plummeted when the recession hit rebounded in 2010, and have remained strong since then. The department was able to distribute $10 million to 20 cash-strapped timber counties this year.
Goldmark concedes the department has a lot of catching up to do in Eastern Washington forests, and will ask the Legislature for more money to help get ahead of the bug problem. A firm believer in biofuels, he says he hopes grants awarded WSU and the University of Washington will lead to the development of portable pyrolysis plants able to convert forest waste into jet fuel.
He is fighting PUD condemnation of state lands. When McKenna refused to appeal a Superior Court judgment in favor of the utility, he sought, and got, a state Supreme Court ruling McKenna is obliged to represent the department. The litigation continues.
We find little to fault in Goldmark’s handling of DNR and its $440 million biennial budget during one of the worst possible times to be in the timber business. If this summer’s drought becomes the norm, it will take someone with his management skills and credentials as a scientist to get the most out of a big but fragile resource portfolio.
Didier has no such qualifications. We endorse Goldmark.
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