Conserving Rural Forest Report Response

Ms. Stangell,

I read your report on actions required to conserve King County forests. I think the report is well done. I agree with much of the content but I take issue with some of it.

I have been in the forest products industry 36 years. I am a small operator specializing in logging and clearing for non-industrial landowners. Currently I have contracts and operations in two counties and DNR regions comprising approx 7MM board feet and 345 acres. I have been active in King County forestry affairs and other public policy and land use matters. I am President of the state executive board of Citizens Alliance for Property Rights and an elected King Conservation District supervisor. I ran for supervisor with two objectives in mind, fiscal responsibility and an increased forestry focus.

I agree with you that forest land conversion is a major problem. I have studied the 1996 “Farm and Forest report”, Future of Washington Forests and Forest industries” report and “Factors affecting Forestland conversion” report. I wrote an editorial for the Seattle Times recently on this subject.

There should be strategies in place to encourage retention of forestlands. These should be incentive based, not regulatory.

Regulations have been a driving force in discouraging forestry. This is well documented, going back decades with warnings that a growing number of restrictions would have harmful unintended consequences. Regulatory complexity/uncertainty is number two behind land value differentials in driving forest land conversion. I agree with your bullet point “Develop streamlined regulation that ensure regulatory consistency and simplicity”. I have also heard this before and observe that it has not yet happened. Perhaps a multi-agency forestry permit review team would help to achieve this. I would support this concept at least on a pilot project level.

I also agree that a current use taxation program is important to forestry. Unfortunately there are problems with the amount of time and trouble it takes to set up this program and the fact that tax revenue differentials are made up by neighbors and not the general county population.

I take issue with the Rural Forest Commission position that taxpayer funded programs provide the lions share of revenues for management that is clearly based on “sustainability, forest health, ecological values and rural character, whatever that means. The RFC wants an increase in forester and other staff positions with additional or expanded tax or fee sources while we are in the throes of the worst recession since the great depression. I can’t support this thinking.

Forestry should pay for itself. The large industrial landowners know this. They don’t need county staff to help with this and it is WDNR’s purview anyway. Give the state a small grant to look after the provisions of conservation easements in force with a report each year.

The county should only worry about those lands under its jurisdiction, platted RA zoned lands. That’s mostly small landowners who need education and technical assistance. They should hear about harvesting and thinning as much as they hear about forest health issues. Even though timber volumes are usually small, a good operator can pay substantial stumpage while doing cleanup and replanting. There is a recoverable resource here if the permitting can be brought in line and we can recover some of our forestry infrastructure. I get into this more in a piece I wrote last year, “Forestry in King County 2008”. Find the attached document.

There are now no more mills or marketers operating in King County. Many loggers and truckers have left the business. Support business then falters. This lack of infrastructure means higher costs leaving less for stumpage payments. Weyerhaeuser has a “timberlands for sale” sign at the bottom of my driveway. (Mile 3 on highway 203 in the Snoqualmie Valley) the price reflects developable land values on this RA-10 zoned property. The 750 acre parcel will become 75 10 acre tracts with portions of the properties still growing trees. Management quality will vary, but the land will then be supporting the highest and best use. We should encourage forestry on the remaining portions as we are trying to do on other developed lands.

What the RFC should recognize is that monetary reward coupled with good stewardship practices would be a much more effective strategy than the current program. Environmental organizations used to demonizing logging are now realizing they dislike development even more. When forestry is no longer profitable, owners will seek alternatives, and that usually means conversion. How much better would it have been if in the past we had more sensible policy? We may already be too far down the conversion road for changes now to make much of a difference.

I will close with reference to testimony made last year before the state natural resources board concerning a landowner client of mine. I have attached the document. It outlines regulatory difficulties we experienced while harvesting a parcel in Snohomish County. The owner and I never discussed conversion prior to the job. Now I wonder if this parcel will grow another crop.

We are definitely behind the power curve in efforts to conserve forestry in King County. It will not happen without major changes in regulatory policy, new infrastructure and increased timber supplies.

I look forward to working with the RFC to effect these changes.
Preston Drew

King Conservation District supervisor