Earlier this week a bill sponsored by Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia, was subjected to a hearing in front of the Senate Ways and Means Committee as it looks to gain traction through the state Legislature.
On Monday, that public hearing was held in order to take a closer look at the Braun bill, Senate Bill 6539, that aims to establish an average annual goal of raising $230 million from activities on state forest lands.
“It’s possible to protect our natural resources and maximize their value to our citizens and schools,” said Braun, R-Centralia, in a press release. “Overall returns to taxpayers have gone down and it’s clear that better management and operations must be prioritized. Providing clear expectations to the department will help ensure the state generates adequate resources that help our schools and create jobs throughout the state.”
The Washington Department of Natural Resources is charged with managing 2 million acres of federal granted trust lands. The bulk of those forests, or 1.8 million acres, are used to generate revenue for public schools, while the rest goes toward funding state universities, correctional facilities and the Capitol campus in Olympia. Additionally, the state DNR manages 600,000 acres of state forest lands. Operations on those timberlands help to fund local county projects and junior taxing districts.
Revenues on state managed forest land are generated from timber harvest, agricultural leases for grazing and crops, as well as leasing sites for telecommunications equipment, mining and energy production.
In addition to providing a source of income to the state, those forest lands create habitat for local flora and fauna while simultaneously preserving water resources and recreation opportunities.
While the Braun bill focuses on overall revenue generation, it also directs the DNR to create a clear strategy for meeting specific financial goals. In particular, Braun, who is the ranking minority member of the budget-writing committee, has expressed a desire to see better management of some high-value lands that he believes are not currently generating adequate returns.
“These lands and the resources on them are valuable to rural communities by helping protect family-wage jobs in places that haven’t seen the same economic opportunity as other parts of the state,” said Braun, who represents parts of Lewis, Cowlitz, Clark and Thurston Counties.
In a press release Braun noted that revenue generated from state managed lands have dwindled from about $228 million per year in the 1990’s to just $197 million per year so far this century.
State Bill 6539 has already been approved by the Senate Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources & Parks Committee, where it generated unanimous support and was forwarded along to the Senate budget committee.
Progress of SB 6539 can be tracked online at http://app.leg.wa.gov/billsummary?BillNumber=6539&Year=2017.
Additional details can also be found on Braun’s website at SenatorJohnBraun.com.