Saturday, November 22, 2008

Public Should Ask Many Questions About DNR Land Swap Proposals

The Washington Department of Natural Resources is working to put all of their manageable eggs into a few baskets. The agency is looking to trade about 7,700 acres of Washington Public Lands for about 19,000 acres of land via Plum Creek Timber Company. Another deal with Port Blakely Tree Farms may not be far behind that includes land just west of Winlock and Vader.

A large portion of that trade would come right out of our Western Lewis County back yard, an area already anemic with public lands. Local residents use that land to ride horseback, hunt and explore, especially in these lean times where driving to the east county for such play becomes a major financial decision.

There are many questions besides the emotional loss of publicly owned land in Lewis County. First off, why would Plum Creek and Port Blakely trade so much land for so little. We are talking about 19,000 acres which has had “low to moderate harvest over the last five years” according to Robin L. Keegan, a media contact for Plum Creek Timber Company. One can only surmise that the value of the resources on the 7,700 acres of DNR land make up for the difference. What is the condition of the land the Citizens of Washington will gain? Are we now in the business of taking harvested land and rehabilitating it?

The second question that comes to mind is why the Lake Creek holdings just west of Winlock? The Department of Natural Resources states that it wants to have its holdings centralized for more efficient management. Are there and thoughts about the people who use those lands?

Currently, two proposed land swaps effect Lewis County residents. The largest would swap 7,700 acres (including 2,155 from Lewis County) for 19,000 acres in King County’s Green River Watershed. The area also happens to be the City of Tacoma’s watershed. That means more public land for King County and less for Lewis. A smaller deal with Port Blakely would exchange 4,000 acres of DNR and Trust lands for an unspecified amount of acreage in eastern Gray’s Harbor County that borders the Capital Forest. Our neighboring Lake Creek area is in the proposed Port Blakely swap.

To complicate the matter further, many of the lands included in these proposed swaps are trust lands owned by Lewis County dating back to the 1930s and are managed by the DNR. Lewis County Commissioners are watching closely as those lands contribute anywhere from $3 million to $16 million to local coffers , but DNR insists they have the final say. Is DNR swapping lands owned by Lewis County?

While DNR officials intend to establish alternative trust lands within the county, it would be dealt for on an “equal value basis” not necessarily an equal amount of acreage.

The deals are complicated and should not be taken and approved at face value. Both sides state repeatedly that they intend to make their lands easier to manage through consolidation. Plum Creek and Port Blakely answer to their stockholders in a simple fashion. The role of the DNR is not quite so clear, but they should be answering all of the interests of its stakeholders.

Meetings regarding these proposals will take place on Tuesday, Dec. 9 at 6:00pm, at the Veterans Memorial Museum in Chehalis. A public input meeting on the Port Blakely exchange will be held at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 10 at the Lewis County Law and Justice Center in Chehalis.

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