The Washington Board of Natural Resources voted unanimously Tuesday to approve the sale of 200 acres of the Olympic Peninsula. The money from the timber sale will go to the University of Washington.
The land is home to a rare seabird whose numbers have plummeted to the point that it’s listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.
“These 200 acres are extremely important,” said Peter Goldman, director of the Washington Forest Law Center. “The lands around these timber sales are heavily used and officially mapped as occupied by the marbled murrelet.”
Last year the University of Washington received $1.35 million from timber sales on state lands, according to the state Department of Natural Resources.
“So the question,” Goldman said, “is whether the University of Washington is really saying they want to log the last remaining habitat for the marbled murrelet for approximately $600,000.”
Goldman is working with several environmental groups who oppose the timber sale because it will mean clear-cutting in murrelet habitat. The tracts are known as Goodmint and Rainbow Rock and are located on the western part of the peninsula.
There were roughly 4,000 murrelets left in Washington in 2010, according to the state Department of Fish and Wildlife. The population has been in decline in recent years, at rates of roughly 7 percent per year.
They nest in old-growth coastal forests of Washington, Oregon, British Columbia and California, and can fly up to 50 miles to forage the ocean for food.
For timber cutters and marbled murrelet alike, coastal forests on the Olympic Peninsula are highly desirable and harder to come by.
Responsibility To Trust Beneficiaries
In a report released in 2008, the Department of Natural Resources identified key habitat that should be protected for marbled murrelet throughout the state. The 200 acres that are now up for sale were included in that report.
When asked about the report, Peter Goldmark, chairman of the state Board of Natural Resources and commissioner of public lands for the state of Washington, downplayed its findings.
“This is a science team report only,” Goldmark said. “It’s not proposed as a plan because, first and foremost, our major responsibility is a fiduciary interest to supply revenue for the trust beneficiaries.”
Goldmark added that the DNR has refrained from logging on thousands of acres elsewhere in the area, at a significant cost to those beneficiaries – like the University of Washington, Washington State University and public schools throughout the state, which in total received almost $175 million from timber sales last year.
“The opponents make an emotional issue that these are the last acres available when in fact they’re not,” Goldmark said.
Tom DeLuca, the director of the University of Washington’s School of Environmental and Forest Sciences, is the vice chairman of the state Board of Natural Resources, which makes decisions about timber sales. DeLuca did not vote on this particular sale and did not respond to requests for an interview.
In an emailed statement, a spokesman for the University of Washington said: “This is the Department of Natural Resource’s decision. Some people may disagree, but it is their call.”
The 200 acres will be put up for sale in April. Environmental groups have indicated they will to file a lawsuit in the next 30 days.
Correction 3/5/2014: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified the number of marbled murrelets known to exist in Washington and the population's rate of decline. The correct number is 4,000, according to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife; the rate of decline is roughly 7 percent per year.