Just when I thought 2019 couldn’t get worse for the hardworking taxpayers of Washington, the state Board of Natural Resources this week adopted DNR’s controversial plan to expand protection for the marbled murrelet.
This little seabird spends about 95% of its life at sea, even feeding underwater. DNR’s plan to protect it will reduce timber harvests on state trust lands. It reminds me of the heavy-handed federal action years ago to protect the spotted owl. Timber-producing areas in western Washington never recovered, and I’m told the marbled murrelet may be the last straw for around 1,200 people in the timber industry.
This isn’t bad news just for rural communities in timber country – the DNR plan has negative consequences for families across Washington. Timber sales from trust lands are a significant source of state revenue. School-construction projects, especially those to reduce K-3 class sizes, are a major beneficiary. Trust-land revenue also goes to WSU, UW, counties and local-government entities like libraries, fire districts, and parks, and supports DNR itself.
Each dollar generated by trust lands is a dollar that doesn’t have to come from taxpayers through bond issues or other taxes. Yet I’m told DNR’s plan will cut trust-land revenue by at least $30 million annually by lowering the yearly timber harvest by 85 million board feet (enough lumber to build about 6,500 homes). Another harvest restriction in about four years will deepen the revenue hole to at least $45 million per year.
This year my majority-Democrat colleagues lifted the bipartisan lid on local school levies, which will push many districts to ask voters for more money. The (unelected) natural resources board has done much the same thing (a 4-2 vote, I’m told). Shrinking the available trust-land revenue makes it harder for districts to pursue capital projects aimed at providing a positive learning environment, unless they ask taxpayers for more – call it the “marbled murrelet tax” – to offset the lost state revenue.
What’s worse is that timber country will lose good family-wage jobs along the way. Rural areas don’t have jobs to spare!
In 1991 the logging town of Forks shut down for a day so people could protest the federal government’s spotted-owl plan. A few months ago a school-board member in Forks noted how timber revenues had increased, which could help with financing a new stadium (in rural communities, stadiums are really community facilities). Imagine how this decision is playing there.
Beyond the tax implications, I’m told DNR manages just 9% of western-Washington forestland, which accounts for only around 14% of the murrelet’s total potential habitat. I’m also hearing the plan ignores the effect on habitat from public recreation, and the availability of underwater forage, and that population modeling indicates it’ll do little to change the outlook for the murrelet on state trust lands. And that the plan locks up trust lands which aren’t suitable for murrelet habitat anyway.
There are signs that the taxpayers of our state have reached a tipping point. Wait until they hear about this one.
Mark Schoesler, Senate Republican Leader