Walsh looks to help communities impacted by increased environmental protections for marbled murrelet

The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) recently increased its ongoing efforts to protect the marbled murrelet. Because of their dependence on logging and timber sales, Rep. Jim Walsh, R-Aberdeen, says the changes would create a significant economic hardship for Wahkiakum, Pacific and Clallam counties, as well as other communities.

Walsh is calling the changes to the Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) for the marbled murrelet “the second coming of the spotted owl.” The increased Endangered Species Protections for the spotted owls decimated the local timber industry in the 1990s.

In order to mitigate any potential economic harm to coastal communities, Walsh and Rep. Brian Blake, D-Aberdeen, have introduced House Bill 2300. The lawmakers proposal would form a task force of community and government leaders dedicated to finding ways to provide economic relief and save local jobs that rely on revenue from timber harvests.

“The HCP for the spotted owl caused a great deal of economic harm to Southwest Washington, and frankly, to the entire state. This was largely swept under the rug by people with political agendas to push,” said Walsh. “This bill ensures the effects of the increased protections for the marbled murrelets don't get swept under the same rug.”

The task force would look specifically at:

  • The economic impacts associated with environmental protection of the marbled murrelet in counties bordering the Pacific Ocean;
  • The barriers to development in areas subject to marbled murrelet environmental protections;
  • The property tax burden shift caused by devaluation of land due to environmental protections of the marbled murrelet;
  • Identifying activities that could improve the economic vitality of the impacted areas; and
  • Issues related to improved prosperity and government regulations connected to marbled murrelet.

DNR manages more than three million acres of lands that produce non-tax revenue used to build public schools, universities, state mental hospitals and help fund local services in several counties. DNR currently conserves 583,000 acres in murrelet territory, as well as 170,000 acres likely to be chosen as part of its long-term strategy.

In 1997, the department put an interim strategy in place to protect the marbled murrelet. In a report outlining some of the department's work, DNR acknowledged that “As a consequence of the HCP interim strategy, rural communities dependent on timber harvest have experienced serious loss of economic opportunities and revenues.”

Walsh anticipated the short-term plan would be amended once enough information was gathered. Despite the urging of a bipartisan group of lawmakers to soften the impact to coastal counties, increased protections recently chosen by the Board of Natural Resources set aside an additional 50,000 acres in buffer sites, strategically-located blocks of land and other significant areas of marbled murrelet habitat.

Within 50 years, the changes selected by DNR would increase protected habitat areas to more than 306,000 acres. Walsh says the department's revision of currently designated critical habitat for the birds exceeds the federal standard.

“The process gets a bit convoluted on who exactly is doing what, why and when. But, the HCP is the state's implementation of the federal Endangered Species Act. In the process of putting together this complicated plan, sometimes unintended consequences happen. And, very often, those consequences go unmeasured,” he said.

“This bill creates a task force involving members of the Legislature, local governments and other agencies. Their purpose would be to find ways to minimize the unintended economic consequences or, at the very least, ensure those consequences get noticed,” continued Walsh.

The 2018 legislative session will begin Jan. 8 and run for 60 consecutive days.

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Washington State House Republican Communications
houserepublicans.wa.gov