DNR plans to sell 80 acres of Jeff Co forests, without consulting county

Posted 11/20/19

The state Department of Natural Resources is proposing to auction off 80 acres of forest land in Jefferson County.

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DNR plans to sell 80 acres of Jeff Co forests, without consulting county

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The state Department of Natural Resources is proposing to auction off 80 acres of forest land in Jefferson County.

The proposed sale of these two parcels goes against Jefferson County’s own forest management plan, which was created in 2011 and states that these parcels should continue to be held by DNR or become community forest or protected forest for habitat.

DNR plans to sell two parcels: a 40-acre parcel in Paradise Bay, called “Teal 40” and a 40-acre parcel in the lower Duckabush River area, called “Canal 40.”

“I’m disappointed that we didn’t have more opportunity for consultation,” said Kate Dean, board of the Jefferson County Commission, who explained that the county only received one email notifying them of the potential auction.

“When we take public land and it becomes private, as it likely will in this case, we’d really like that to be more of a comprehensive plan,” she said. “I’m not opposed to land swaps, I’d just like the county to have the opportunity to weigh in on it.”

The Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe wrote a letter to DNR, also opposing the sale.

“Both of these 40-acre parcels are important to the Tribe to maintain their treaty reserved rights to hunt in their Usual and Accustomed Area,” wrote Paul McCollum, director of the Tribe’s Natural Resources Department.

The state’s proposal comes as part of a larger consolidation plan. DNR manages a total of 2.9 million acres across Washington as trust lands—lands that generate revenue for schools, colleges, public institutions and counties. But according to the proposal, these properties are considered “no longer suitable for trust ownership.” State law says the parcels may be sold through an inter-trust exchange, in which the properties are placed in a “land bank” status and then sold at public auction.

Public comment can be made on the proposal. Written comments will be accepted through Nov. 22. Members of the public can submit comments via mail, addressed to the Department of Natural Resources, ATTN: Land Bank Exchange, PO Box 47014, Olympia, WA 98504-7014. Testimony may also be emailed to exchanges@dnr.wa.gov (include the exchange name in the subject line).

The proposal states that the purpose of this process is “to sell properties that do not generate revenue, and to acquire properties that have greater revenue potential.”

But according to Jefferson County’s forest management plan, a document called “Forests For the Future,” these parcels have more benefit than just generating revenue.

This document was created by former DNR forester Mike Cronin, with help from Peter Bahls, director of the Northwest Watershed Institute and Olympic Forest Coalition’s Connie Gallant.

“The team evaluated each separate parcel of DNR land in East Jefferson County for its timber, recreation and habitat characteristics and made recommendations for long term management that are described in the report,” Bahls said.

Bahls is advocating that these parcels not be sold, based on the fact that it does not match the county’s plan.

“Anyone concerned about losing these public lands should write to DNR,” he said. “Jefferson County has broad parts that are a mix of private and public forest land. These provide open space for low impact recreation, hunting and are also important wildlife habitats.”

The county’s plan recommended that the Duckabush forest parcel be transferred through a Trust Land Transfer to state parks or Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to protect recreation and elk habitat.

“This parcel is potential winter elk range and provides a buffer between Forest Service land on the east and development on other sides,” Bahls said.

Research to create the management plan found that this parcel has high quality riparian habitat along the lower Duckabush river, as well as old, high quality forest along the river.

The Duckabush river is an important habitat for salmon, and any threat to the riparian zone surrounding the shores of the river could also threaten the livelihood of salmon.

There is also a non-migrating herd of elk that call this parcel of land home. Not only that, but it is located directly next to part of a larger restoration project by the Jefferson Land Trust.

According to the land trust’s website, this corridor along the Duckabush River protects important spawning and rearing habitat for endangered salmon, but it is also a link between the mountains and the sea, between the marine waters of Hood Canal, and the mountains and watersheds of Olympic National Forest.

The other parcel, the 40 acres in Paradise Bay, is labeled as a “moderate” fish and wildlife habitat. The report recommended this parcel remain in DNR Hold or become a Community Forest since it has potential to expand to connect with the 655-acre DNR block to the south (called Teal Lake East) to keep the larger area in timber production and open space uses. A narrow strip of Pope Resources land zoned for commercial forestry separates the parcel from the larger East Teal Lake block, said Bahls.

The Teal 40 parcel is University Trust Land, which means any money generated from timber harvest goes to the University of Washington. The Canal 40 is Common School Trust lands, which means money generated goes to K-12 schools throughout the state for building construction purposes.

According to DNR’s proposal the properties included in the coming land exchange are small parcels isolated from other state lands, which makes them difficult to manage. On top of that, they provide “little to no revenue for the trust beneficiaries.”

But Bahls says the more public lands you sell, the more both public and private timberlands are threatened in our county.

“They’re like the pillars that hold up the forest land base,” he said. “If you start selling public timberlands, that also threatens the private forest land base as well.

“Once you start losing public land, it becomes easier to rezone that land, potentially for development, and the adjacent lands,” he said.

The Board of County Commissioners stated that it intends to submit a letter asking for more input on the proposal.

“There’s a lot of pieces to how DNR operates that we need to have input in,” said Commissioner David Sullivan. “Especially since we’re a timber county.”

The proposal will go before the state’s Board of Natural Resources at their January meeting, according to Kenny Ocker, a communications manager with DNR.

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