Three bills and a key budget proviso would improve prospects for job growth on the Olympic Peninsula and in rural and coastal areas across the state, Sen. Kevin Van De Wege, D-Sequim, said today.

The proviso secured by Van De Wege mandates that the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) cannot pursue policies that inhibit its fiduciary responsibility to manage state lands responsibly and in ways that generate revenue from the rights to harvest timber on state trust lands. Those revenues, primarily dedicated to education, are critical to state and local governments but are limited by restrictions to protect endangered species like the marbled murrelet.

“We don’t want to do anything to threaten the sustainability of the marbled murrelet or any other endangered species, but we also don’t want to squander opportunities to create jobs in ways that won’t harm wildlife populations,” Van De Wege said. “We need to track the recovery of species like the murrelet to make sure we’re not overlooking improved opportunities to create jobs our communities badly need.”

Since 1997, the state has restricted harvesting on 176,000 acres of state trust lands to protect the marbled murrelet pending long-term conservation strategy. DNR is currently determining how many thousands of acres can be opened to harvesting without harming the marbled murrelet population. The proviso reconciles aspects of an earlier proviso by Van De Wege that encountered opposition.

“The studies show that we can harvest additional acreage, creating family-wage jobs and boosting our local economies, without endangering the marbled murrelet population,” Van De Wege said. “We can strike a winning balance between healthy habitats and good jobs.”

Meanwhile, House Bill 2285, a companion bill to legislation sponsored in the Senate by Van De Wege, passed the Senate today and directs the department to annually assess the effects on state revenues from conservation strategies developed by the state Board of Natural Resources. The House version is sponsored by Van De Wege 24th District seatmate, Rep. Mike Chapman, D-Port Angeles, and is also supported by their third seatmate, Rep. Steve Tharinger, D-Dungeness.

In addition to the economic analysis, the department’s annual reports to the Legislature must include recommendations in the following areas:

  • actions that support maintaining or increasing jobs in affected rural communities;
  • strategies to ensure no net loss of revenues to the trust beneficiaries;
  • additional means of financing county services; and
  • additional non-regulatory conservation measures that provide economic benefits to rural communities.

Another piece of legislation sponsored by Van De Wege, SB 6140, would create jobs in rural communities by directing DNR to evaluate state land, forestland, revenue streams and related management methods to make it easier to complete common-sense land swaps and help spur mill activity.

A third bill that Van De Wege voted for earlier for this session, SB 5450, would add cross-laminated timber to the state building code, making it easier for businesses to incorporate timber dependent technology in residential and commercial construction. In addition to creating a stronger market for wood, the cross-laminated timber provides an environmental benefit by sequestering carbon.

SB 5450 and HB 2285 passed both chambers and await only the governor’s signature to become law; both have the support of Chapman and Tharinger in addition to Van De Wege. SB 6140 passed the Senate, but awaits passage by the House. The budget that contains Van De Wege’s proviso passed both chambers but in different versions that must be reconciled before a final budget can be sent to the governor.