3,000 acres saved from early cuts


SEATTLE — About 3,000 acres of state-managed forestland in Pacific and Wahkiakum counties will be withdrawn from proposed logging for now following a court ruling in Seattle earlier this month.

Acting on a lawsuit by Seattle Audubon Society and Olympic Forest Coalition (OFCO), Judge Heller of the King County Superior Court ruled that the Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) violated the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) by prematurely attempting to allow logging on lands that have been protected for consideration in a long-term conservation plan.

The ruling primarily deals with 12,000 acres of reclassified habitat outside of Marbled Murrelet Management Areas. About 25 percent of these lands are in Pacific and Wahkiakum counties. The remainder is in Grays Harbor, Thurston, Lewis, and Cowlitz counties.

Seattle Audubon played a leading role in opposing development of a wind-energy farm on Radar Ridge above Naselle, citing concerns about marbled murrelets that might be harmed while transiting the turbine site.

Seattle Audubon and OFCO have been actively working with DNR to develop a long-term conservation strategy for the marbled murrelet, a Washington seabird that nests in old forests near marine waters. The judge’s 19-page opinion also emphasized the need for a long-term plan for conserving forests near marine waters as habitat.

Seattle Audubon and OFCO disagreed with DNR’s effort to allow significant logging of protected areas without the completed public process to develop such a plan, and filed suit.

“It’s heartening to see that the court recognizes the importance of a Long-Term Conservation Strategy to recover marbled murrelets on state lands, especially one that respects the terms of the Habitat Conservation Plan and is developed with all stakeholders involved” said Marina Skumanich, Seattle Audubon interim executive director.

However, the ruling promises to have negative impacts on near-term income for the counties and other government entities that rely in part on timber harvests for operational revenue. In addition, logging jobs are an important part of the rural economy in Southwest Washington.

The conservation groups say, however, they successfully lobbied the Washington Legislature for $1.5 million in funds to protect state lands and compensate counties for potential timber harvest revenue.

Seattle Audubon and OFCO recently submitted comments and met with DNR regarding murrelet conservation on state lands, and will continue to work with DNR to develop plans that protect old forest ecosystems.

“The Long-Term Conservation Strategy will shape forestry on DNR-managed lands for decades, and protecting forest habitat helps the murrelet, preserves old-growth ecosystems, and provides clean air and water both for humans as well as other species, including salmon,” Seattle Audubon said in a public statement.

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