At its regular monthly meeting on June 6, the state Board of Natural Resources took an in-depth look at key components of proposed alternatives to conserve habitat for the marbled murrelet on state trust lands in Western Washington. The alternatives under review would set aside varying amounts of state trust land as habitat for the seabird, whose Washington state population is listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA).


“We are digging deeper and developing more insight into which conservation strategies will best protect vital murrelet habitat while allowing us to carry out our legal obligation to generate revenue for public schools, counties and other beneficiaries of state trust lands,” said Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz.


The gradient nearest neighbor (GNN) map products developed for this project are used to assess changes in late-successional and old-growth forest, and habitat for the northern spotted owl, marbled murrelet, and aquatic species, as part of Effectiveness Monitoring for the Northwest Forest Plan (NWFP).

The Board is reviewing several alternative strategies for long-term conservation of the marbled murrelet on about 1.4 million acres of forestland that the Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) manages in western Washington.


“We will submit a plan to the federal government that meets both the requirements of the ESA and our state trust mandate,” Franz said. “Additionally, I’m well aware of the concerns that the proposed alternatives could have significant economic repercussions for our rural communities, while not doing enough to save the murrelet. So I’ve asked my staff to work with diverse stakeholders to develop additional solutions that would offset economic and community impacts the plan might have, and find creative ways to improve murrelet conservation,” Franz said.


Franz said she will bring together a larger table of diverse stakeholders that include trust beneficiaries, industry, conservation interests, local, state and federal governments, and others to work with DNR to develop creative, feasible, and impactful solutions to address the social, economic and environmental impacts that the final Habitat Conservation Plan may have.


Because each of the proposed murrelet conservation alternatives would affect the amount of timber that DNR can sustainably harvest from state trust lands in Western Washington, the Board is concurrently assessing the state’s sustainable harvest calculation. The calculation, which would cover all western Washington state forests during the 2015-2024 planning period, will take into account the timber that DNR did not harvest as planned during the 2004-2014 sustainable harvest period.


Due to the combination of a recession, land transactions and adjustments to conservation strategies, DNR’s total timber sale volume came in 462 million board feet lower than targeted during the decade. State law requires the department to analyze and consider whether to harvest the “arrearage” during the following harvest decade.