Commissioners sign letter opposing DNR project
February 9, 2023
Mason County commissioners approved a letter opposing the Board of Natural Resources trust lands Carbon Project, including 400 acres near Elk Lake.
Elk Lake is just south of the Jefferson County line.
According to the state Department of Natural Resources Carbon Project website, the project is to protect some of the most ecologically and culturally valuable forests while generating revenue for schools and services that state trust lands support. DNR is trying to move an estimated 10,000 new acres of Western Washington’s ecologically valuable forests into conservation status to store carbon and generate revenue for state trust land beneficiaries. The new carbon project will lease land for carbon sequestration and storage at a price that is reflective of the economic value of logging, diversifying revenue streams and provide financial stability to beneficiaries.
According to the letter, commissioners do not want the inclusion of the Elk Lake land in the project and asked DNR and the Board of Natural Resources to not move forward with any carbon leases involving state trust lands in Mason County.
“We have significant concerns that the carbon project will reduce revenues available for local public services and result in forest products sector job losses,” the letter reads. “We also believe the program may actually increase carbon emissions and environmental impacts as we import more wood products from abroad and as more carbon intensive building material like concrete and steel are substituted for climate friendly, Washington-grown wood products produced under strict environmental standards.”
“DNR has not provided Mason County or impacted junior taxing districts estimates of the likely revenues from carbon leases, but we understand they are currently projected at 10 to 20% of the revenue from sustainable timber harvest with payments likely spread out over several decades,” the letter continues. “DNR has not disclosed what difference in value these lands will have at the end of 40 years to compare a sustainable timber harvest alternative with the carbon project’s 40-year no-harvest alternative. However, it is questionable whether these acres would see harvest activity again after a 40-year carbon lease.”
Commissioner Kevin Shutty said during the meeting he brought the letter to the attention of the other commissioners at the Jan. 30 briefing.
“This is part of our ongoing issues with the Department of Natural Resources when it comes to their management or mismanagement of their trust lands and not fulfilling their obligation to continue to harvest at appropriate times given the reliance of our junior taxing districts,” Shutty said during the Jan. 31 meeting. “I’m thinking about Fire District 17 up there who relies on the revenue generated by these timber sales. I think our other junior districts in the schools and certainly even the county is a recipient of some of these funds and so we need to have a balance and that is what this letter is calling for when it comes to asking DNR to reconsider how they include parcels in their carbon project and how they do their timber maintenance and harvest.”
A Mason County resident spoke to the commissioners about the letter.
“It’s possible, I just want to throw this out, for future, maybe the county could work with DNR a little more so that they could support some of these DNR initiatives or efforts,” the resident said.
Commissioner Randy Neatherlin said he understood where the resident was coming from “to save this forest or that forest,” but he is looking at it from a different standpoint.
“These lands were given to the state to manage on our behalf, 100 years ago, before we had anything to do with that,” Neatherlin said. “They are our fiduciary, and a fiduciary has a responsibility to its client first, not what it wants, not what it desires, but a fiduciary has a responsibility to the client so we get the best reward off of that investment. These lands are investment lands for all the taxing districts, not just the county. What they’re doing by taking these lands out or choosing which lands to take out, to give you an example, we have retirement funds that are out there, let’s say a company that is your fiduciary is supposed to be investing the best way to benefit you and make you the most money at the end of the project, decides they’re going to take out of your $100,000, they’re going to take $5,000 and not invest it, they’re just going to keep it and hold it back after you paid in the money. That’s where the problem comes in, they should not have the right to be able to be your fiduciary and then decide they’re not going to invest your money so you can’t make anything off that. They’re not looking out for our best interest; they’re looking out for what they want best.”
Neatherlin compared it to a current lawsuit against retirement funds deciding to invest in a specific type of political agenda and not to invest in anything that makes power such as oil or gas.
Commissioner Sharon Trask said as part of the Washington Association of Counties, they ask entities like DNR to ask for county and local government input for any decisions made that are not reversable.
“It would be nice to have DNR come and talk to the counties, to the local governments too, so that’s why I supported this letter, 100%,” Trask said during the meeting.