The Lewis County commissioners last fall saw the Department of Natural Resources’ proposal to hold 10,000 acres of Washington forest land for carbon offset credits as another blow to the area’s already-struggling timber industry.
Commissioner Lindsey Pollock at the time compared the proposal to decades of back-and-forth between timber proponents and conservationists on habitat restrictions for the northern spotted owl and marbled murrelet.
During a press event at the Capitol last week, Public Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz addressed Lewis County’s criticisms of the program and said recently-added language in the proposed legislation would go a long way toward preventing harm to timber counties.
“(The bill says) at no point in time can a carbon offset project or ecosystem service project lead to a net decrease. There can be no net decrease in sustainable harvest value,” Franz said in an answer to The Chronicle. “Also, there can’t be a reduction in the net operable acres that are in our portfolio.”
Franz elaborated that the program instead is required to work toward a net increase in operable harvest land through reforestation.
Another concern from the county was the area's mills, many of which are set up for about 45-year-old trees, would not be able to process timber that had been sequestered for 80 years. Franz said the language maintaining decadal harvest patterns would prevent this from being an issue. It’s worth noting, she said, that many other mills in the state are set up for those kinds of trees and could benefit from the later harvest.
“We have an enormous amount of older trees and we do have a lot of mills that rely on those,” Franz said. “Port Blakely, a company that’s very near here, relies on our older, larger diameter timber.”
When looking at the carbon offset program, Franz said the department worked hard to ensure they would not further the inequity of conservation programs felt by timber counties.
“Let me be really frank. There has been a true inequity throughout this state when it comes to endangered species and habitat conservation requirements,” Franz said.
She later added she’s playing with ideas to “make good on the harm” and benefit those communities, possibly through the sale of carbon credits. “We’re looking at that. Because, honestly, it was a harm.”
The Lewis County commissioners did not respond to a request for comment on the bill’s updated language.