Twice-told timber tales

Republished from February 2017.

The true story of the TLAC has not been reported by the local (Port Angeles) media, and what has been reported is incomplete, inaccurate or out of context, mostly in ways that favor the timber industry’s point of view.

We thought you deserved better.

The TLAC was originally proposed by Green Crow Corp. and its allies as a means to force re conveyance of 92,525 acres of the county’s forested trust lands. Re conveyance would have changed management of the trust lands from the state Department of Natural Resources to the county, which is more vulnerable to corporate influence. Mid way through the process, the timber industry suddenly, and for reasons we don’t understand, backed off its push for re conveyance, and re conveyance was voted down by all but one TLAC member.

But other issues remain, and it’s likely that a handful of local timber companies will gain considerably more influence over the management of this key public resource, with the goal of converting public assets into private profits.

Perhaps the most serious issue that is already in motion is a series of initiatives by the forest-products industry. Industry-funded scientists are writing position papers that argue for accelerated logging in order to sequester carbon in wood products. This industry science is refuted by independent science, but Big Timber has politicians lined up to support these initiatives, both Democrats and Republicans. If these initiatives are successful, taxpayers will be paying large subsidies to timber companies to make global warming worse.

But that’s a battle in the making. For now, the TLAC process process is in its closing days. In the following story, we give our members a fuller look at the process, the main players and the motivations behind it.

Summary:

The county’s TLAC is an outgrowth of a political lobbying campaign led by Green Crow Corp. and its allies. The goal of this campaign is to boost corporate profits by forcing the county to log its public forests more aggressively.

For years, Green Crow’s public voice — Rod Fleck, the city attorney of Forks and a member of Green Crow’s board of directors — has orchestrated a public-relations campaign that blames the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) for not logging the county’s timbered trust lands aggressively enough, causing a loss of jobs for the community and a loss of revenue for schools, hospitals, fire districts and other pubic institutions.

Fleck’s accusations are not true, but they have been delivered repeatedly to various community groups and reported credulously by local media.  In truth, the DNR logs our public forests on a 60-year rotation, meaning that forest stands are harvested on average every 60 years. By law, the DNR is required to treat all generations equally, meaning it cannot over-harvest forests to benefit current beneficiaries at the expense of future generations. Nor can it undercut forests at the expense of current generations.

The real problem for Clallam County’s economy is the export of raw logs. In 1990, under heavy lobbying pressure by timber corporations, Congress passed and George H.W. Bush signed the Forest Resources Conservation and Shortage Relief Act. That law, and subsequent refinements, gave private timber companies the exclusive right to export raw logs. Public timber lands — those that support schools and other public institutions — were denied that right.

And because foreign buyers typically pay 25-50 percent more for logs than domestic mills, Congress, by that one act, devalued our public timber lands, reduced jobs in timber communities, cut revenue for schools and greatly enriched the owners of private timber corporations.

Timber companies became richer. Timber communities became poorer.

According to the DNR’s 2014 bi-annual mill survey, the latest survey available, more than 94 MMBF (million board feet) of raw logs were shipped out of Port Angeles Harbor to mills in China, Korea and Japan. Those exports represent the loss of hundreds of high-paying mill jobs that once supported workers in Clallam County.

Between 2001 and 2013, the Olympic Peninsula has lost 3,100 jobs to China alone, representing 1.13 percent of our total employment, according to a study by the Economic Policy Institute.

Meanwhile, timber companies have been given massive tax subsidies. Private timber companies operate under more lenient environmental regulations than public forests. They pay low taxes, both locally and federally. And legal timber entities, such as Timberland Investment Management Organizations (TIMOs), allow corporations to pay no taxes while passing on profits to investors that are capped at a 15 percent taxation rate. As a result, investments in private timberland are among the most profitable of any sector on Wall Street. Green Crow itself boasts of producing returns on investment approaching 20 percent a year. And yet our communities suffer. We’re shipping profits to the wealthy one percent back East and jobs to China. What could go wrong?

Through the yearlong meetings of the TLAC, no evidence was presented — much less evaluated — to show that the DNR is improperly managing out trust lands for income, although the DNR acknowledged that it has been unsuccessful in preventing the decline of salmon and other wildlife devastated by industrial forestry.

The TLAC was over-represented by large timber corporations with a vested interest in gaining increased access to county timber lands. Green Crow initiated the TLAC process, wrote the county resolution establishing the TLAC, drafted the membership, wrote the work plan and seized control of all officer positions. Nothing went on in the TLAC that wasn’t under the direct control of Big Timber.

Community members on the committee were improperly denied the right to look at the DNR’s environmental management or to discuss the export issue. Members representing corporate timber interests refused to sign conflict-of-interest forms.

There is no evidentiary record to support any of the TLAC recommendations to the county. And the recommendations to create a forester position and/or a permanent timber advisory committee are clearly designed to give a handful of timber corporations increased control over county government, a government that is already controlled by two timber executives: retired Rayonier manager Bill Peach and incoming commissioner Randy Johnson, who is the current chairman of Green Crow. Johnson was president of Green Crow when it began its covert initiative to create the TLAC.

Corporate timber interests have too much control over our community. And they are enjoying record profits, while timber communities suffer. They have public officials on their payroll. They control powerful community institutions, public and private, such as the Port of Port Angeles, the Clallam Co. Economic Development Corp., the Port Angeles Business Association and others.

The TLAC consumed much time and public resources, but those efforts were not designed to benefit the community.

In the Beginning: Smoke and Mirrors

Private timber companies log on a 40-year rotation. The DNR logs public lands on a 60-year rotation. So as private companies over-harvested their plantations for quick profits, they looked around for a way to gain greater access to public trees, which are two to three times larger than trees on private plantations and far more valuable.

There was another problem, too. Because foreign buyers pay much more for raw logs than domestic mills, the supply of logs to local mills was drying up. In early 2015, Green Crow had half ownership in a Port Angeles sawmill, and that mill was going bankrupt for lack of logs, even while Green Crow exported millions of board feet of raw logs to China.

Green Crow needed more logs of public lands, but the DNR already was cutting at the maximum rate under the law. What to do? Green Crow’s solution was to blame arrearage, which is the total of scheduled timber sales that, for one reason or another, did not get harvested during the scheduled harvest period. That charge is misleading — and hypocritical on the part of Green Crow — as the next section will describe. But Rod Fleck, the city attorney of Forks and a Green Crow director, aggressively led the charge to gain access to county trust lands by blaming arrearage for the loss of local timber income and jobs. He was joined by a number of other Green Crow officers and allies, including Harry Bell, a freshly retired Green Crow officer still active in lobbying for the company, Jim McEntire, then a county commissioner, Phil Kitchel, a former county commissioner active in lobbying for the timber industry, and a number of others, including officers of the North Olympic Timber Action Committee (NOTAC). NOTAC is chartered as a community-service organization, but it principally acts as a lobbying group for Green Crow and other corporate timber interests in Clallam County.

The executive director of NOTAC is Carol Johnson, wife of then Green Crow President Randy Johnson. The president of NOTAC is Harry Bell, a long-time Green Crow executive. The vice president is Glenn Wiggins, a forester and former mayor of Port Angeles.

Green Crow’s plan to gain access to public trees involved reinvigorating the old notion of reconveyance, an initiative that was tried and failed in the 1990s. The DNR manages 92,525 acres of forested trust land for Clallam County. Reconveyance would allow the county to take back management of those forest stands and manage timber operations on its own. Because timber companies have such outsized power over local governments and community organizations, the timber industry would be in good shape to manage or control timber sales for the county — and itself. Merely by switching from a 60- to a 40-year rotation, a windfall of logging would be in the offing, something the timber industry pressed for in the ‘90s. Short-term profits would rise sharply with a switch to shortened rotations, although long-term profits for future generations would fall even more sharply. And there would be more logs available — in the short term — for local mills because public logs cannot be exported.

It was an impressive plan. But the timber industry needed to cover its tracks.

In 2015, the Charter Review Commission (CRC) was in full swing. It was populated by a number of conservative allies of the timber industry, including Rod Fleck and Glenn Wiggins of NOTAC.

Unknown to CRC Chair Norma Turner, a subcommittee of the CRC chaired by Glenn Wiggins drafted a proposal for reconveyance. Rod Fleck was the chief architect. Fleck worked closely with then County Commissioner Jim McEntire and Commissioner Bill Peach, a former Rayonier manager.

The plan had two working parts. First, the county would hire Phil Kitchel, a long-time proponent of reconveyance, to draft a report for the two pro-reconveyance commissioners. The report’s recommendation, of course, was not in doubt. Kitchel was given a no-bid, sweetheart contract for $10,000 to write the report, which basically consisted of web links to documents generated by the push for re conveyance in the ‘90s. Because Kitchel was McEntire’s friend and neighbor, McEntire had to recuse himself from granting the contract to Kitchel. However, McEntire nominated another friend, Donnie Hall, a outspoken partisan for conservative causes, to vote in his stead as a commissioner pro tem. Peach signed off on the contract with Hall. Kitchel got the contract.

The second part of the plan was to get the county to form a Trust Lands Advisory Committee (TLAC) to recommend to the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) whether it should seek re conveyance.

After extensive planning in Wiggins’ and Fleck’s subcommittee, Carol Johnson of NOTAC got the ball rolling by presenting a letter to the CRC from NOTAC, dated April 6, 2015. The letter said that NOTAC recommended re conveyance. Later that month, Harry Bell and Carol Johnson delivered 14 form letters to the CRC recommending re conveyance. These petitions, all delivered by NOTAC/Green Crow, were the basis for the claim that the public was demanding re conveyance.

Green Crow’s allies on the CRC voted to send a letter to the BOCC recommending the formation of the TLAC. The BOCC, controlled by McEntire and Peach, readily agreed. Fleck drafted the resolution forming the TLAC, designed the membership of the TLAC and wrote the work plan for the TLAC.

The membership roster for the TLAC was so biased in favor of timber corporations that outraged DNR officials publicly objected, forcing the county to add a handful of more community-minded members.

In response to the DNR’s demands, the BOCC directed the TLAC to add several new, non-industry members as its first order of business. But that didn’t happen — not first, at least. Commissioner Peach immediately took control of the new committee, and rather than add new members as the first task, he instead directed the committee to elect officers from the existing membership, which the DNR had found so objectionable.

Toby Thaler, a committee member representing the Olympic Forest Coalition, an environmental group, made a motion to ensure that the leadership was representative of the full community, not just timber companies. Peach quashed that motion without legal justification. The committee then elected Joe Murray, a forester and public face of Merrill & Ring, as chairman. Bob Lea, a retired logging supervisor for Rayonier was elected vice chair. Rod Fleck was chosen as secretary, where he could keep the official minutes. Big Timber controlled the whole show.

A motion was made by public-interest members to require all committee members to sign conflict of interest forms. Timber-company representatives and their allies voted that motion down.

Fleck’s work plan left only one meeting to discuss environmental issues. When a motion was made to have fisheries biologists explain the issues salmon face with industrial logging, Chairman Murray denied the motion on the ground that no environmental regulations would be changed by re conveyance. Several authorities proved Murray’s assertion wrong, but his ruling stuck, nonetheless. And so it went, with the corporate timber lobby controlling discussion topics and agendas.

After Green Crow President Randy Johnson (now chair) announced his run for a seat on the BOCC, the timber groups suddenly and unexpectedly dropped their push for re conveyance. Instead, they angled to form lobbying groups within county government, by creating a forester position and/or a permanent timber advisory group based on the Port of Port Angeles’ own Timber Advisory Committee (TAC), which is comprised entirely of timber company employees, officers and their allies. That TAC became the voice of the Port for the rest of the proceedings.

When the port’s Environmental Director Jesse Waknitz released Port statistics showing the quantity of raw logs being shipped to Asia, data that the timber industry tried to block at every turn, he was quickly replaced as the Port’s TLAC representative by Connie Beauvais, a Port commissioner and ally of timber interests. Her campaign manager was Bill Peach.

As the meetings progressed, it was clear that no evidence was going to be presented that would show the DNR was not managing the trust lands appropriately.

And, as the next section shows, Green Crow’s arrearage argument was proved false.

Arrearage vs Exports: Myth and Subterfuge  

The campaign to force re conveyance — or at least to pressure the DNR into cutting public trees on an accelerated basis — was driven by the DNR management practice called arrearage.

It’s a complicated issue, but in principle, it’s fairly simple. Here’s how it works:

The DNR cuts public timber lands on a 60-year rotation, what they consider a sustained yield. Every 10 years, the DNR plans its sustained-yield calculation for the coming 10 years. The idea is to cut, on average, the same amount of timber each year. Because of a principle called inter-generational equity, the DNR is legally required to treat all generations of trust beneficiaries equally. The amount of timber that a forest can grow in one year, when trees are allowed to grow to 60 years old, is the target.

The actual calculations are complicated, because there are forest stands that cannot be legally cut, such as stands that shade salmon rivers or provide critical nesting habitat for listed species, such as the marbled murrelet. But in simple terms, the DNR cannot cut more than the sustained yield because it would be cutting into income for future generations. It cannot cut less because it would be shortchanging current generations.

But 10 years is a long time to plan. And the timber market is cyclical. Some years, the market collapses and sales cannot go through.

Timber planned for harvest in any 10-year period that doesn’t get cut is called arrearage. If the 10-year plan calls for harvesting 30 MMBF (million board feet), and only 29 MMBF are cut, the arrearage is 1 MMBF. The arrearage not cut is passed into the next 10-year period, where the trees will be older and more valuable.

For the entire 10-year period that just ended, arrearage for Clallam Co. came to 92 MMBF — or 9.2 MMBF per year. (MMBF is a million board feet. One board foot is a board one foot square and one inch thick.) This arrearage is the number that Green Crow seized upon to claim that the DNR was undercutting our trust land forests. Fleck and other Green Crow allies, including Harry Bell, Jim McEntire and Phil Kitchel, roamed the community, claiming that the DNR was costing jobs and crippling our economy by not cutting 100 percent of the sustained yield goal.

But they didn’t tell the story in context. The arrearage that Green Crow officials railed against is actually called “negative arrearage.” Negative arrearage is passed into the next 10-year planning period where, if eligible under forestry rules, it boosts harvest levels. Arrearage passed out of one period as negative arrearage becomes positive arrearage in the next period.

Ideally, arrearage gives flexibility to the DNR to manage lands over long periods.

Here’s the kicker. The DNR testified that in the 10-year planning period just ended, positive arrearage was slightly greater than negative arrearage. As a practical matter, net arrearage was a wash. Net arrearage did not reduce timber harvests.

So where did all those jobs go? Forks shut down its last mill in July, and when the Peninsula Daily News called Fleck to find out way, he launched an attack on arrearage. As usual, the paper identified Fleck as the city attorney for Forks, but did not mention that he is a sitting board member for Green Crow. Exports have been devastating for Forks, but a boon for Green Crow and other timber companies.

The real cause behind the closing of local mills is the export of raw logs to Asia, mostly China. Because export logs fetch a premium price over what domestic mills can pay, private timber companies like Green Crow, Rayonier and Merrill & Ring export as many logs as they can. You can see those logs piled up in massive rows on Port of Port Angeles land at the airport and harbor. Those logs used to be processed in local mills, where they supported local workers who made good wages. Now those logs support workers, mills and local economies in China.

Once again, timber communities suffer while timber companies make huge profits.

So remember that negative arrearage that Green Crow fumes about was 9.2 MMBF per year in Clallam Co., and net arrearage was basically zero. In 2014, by comparison, exports of raw logs through the Port of Port Angeles ran more than 94 MMBF.

Exports cost the local economy 94 MMBF in one year and net arrearage cost the local economy nothing.

Fleck blames arrearage because his client, Green Crow, benefits greatly by exports. Even with a mill in Port Angeles failing due a shortage of logs, Green Crow continued to export millions of board feet of logs to China. Forks has suffered greatly because of exports, and Fleck is the city’s lawyer. Sadly, he is a lawyer with two clients, each with competing interests. He chose to represent the interests of Green Crow over that of the people of Forks.

The publisher, editors and reporters at the PDN were all given this information, but the paper continues to report the news from the point of view of Green Crow, not the community.

The Port Angeles Business Association, which has a long history of representing the timber industry’s interests, approved a “white paper” written by Bell, McEntire and Kitchel, basically blaming arrearage for the community’s economic problems.

By not recognizing the true problem of exports, local business and media institutions give people false information and hold the economy back, as you’ll see in the next section.

Foothills Land Exchange of 2013: More jobs to China, less jobs for Clallam Co.

Under Randy Johnson’s leadership, Green Crow initiated a land transfer with the DNR. It was called the Foothills Land Exchange, and it covered more than 14,000 thousand acres of commercial forest land.

Land transfers are common, and they are a major cause of arrearage. According to the DNR, almost a third of the most recent arrearage of a little more than 1 billion board feet of timber was caused by land transfers between the DNR and private timber companies.

The Foothills Land Exchange was one of them. The public was told that the transfer allowed the company and the DNR to consolidate their lands so they would be easier to manage. The public wasn’t told about the cost of jobs and loss of school income.

In the exchange, both sides traded assets worth $18 million. But the DNR gave Green Crow mostly stands of mature timber, while Green Crow gave the DNR mostly stumps and cutover land. Basically, the trade was trees for land.

The DNR trees were slated to go to local mills, with revenue going to schools and other public institutions. The DNR cannot export logs, so public logs go to domestic mills. But private companies have the Congressional gift of being able to sell their logs for higher prices via the export market. So logs destined for domestic mills were suddenly logs eligible to go to China, taking the associated mill jobs with them.

The trade hurt local mills and local schools, but benefited Green Crow. The trees became arrearage. And right after the land transfer, Green Crow begin its public campaign to vilify arrearage. The company could get away with this hypocrisy because almost no one in the public, outside the timber industry, knew what was going on.

Jobs: The declining importance of Big Timber to timber communities

Timber has long been a key — the key — component of the local economy; and its importance is not going away anytime soon. But it’s contribution to the local economy is declining fast. Exports of raw logs mean jobs are heading overseas. Tax laws make timberland extremely attractive to wealthy investors, so they have purchased huge shares of our local forests and the profits that those forests generate. Jobs go west. Profits go east. Problems stay right here in Clallam County.

Local timber employment has been sharply cut for a number of reasons. Over-cutting of forests in the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s created a shortage of timber today. Shortened rotations on private timber lands lead to smaller trees that can be harvested by large machines, such as feller bunchers, rather than loggers. Mills that survived have been automated, costing jobs. And exports have sent hundreds of high-paying Clallam County. jobs to Asia.

Those trends are not likely to change. The US Bureau of Labor projects that employment of all types is going to grow by about 7 percent over the next 10 years, while logging employment over that same period is expected to fall by 4 percent.

In the late ‘90s, when re conveyance was last looked at, the state Legislature spent freely on studies, and a key conclusion recommended that timber communities begin to diversify their economies because forestry will not be sufficient in the future to promote community-wide prosperity.  

A better way: A carbon park

So what to do? It’s not easy to diversify the economy in an age where the United States has sent millions of manufacturing jobs to low-wage, low-regulation foreign nations. Many of our once-great cities are depopulating. In Cleveland, 8.8 percent of residential homes are vacant. Thousands are being demolished each year because they are beyond repair. Since 1950, Cleveland’s population has fallen 56.6 percent.

Pittsburgh’s population over that period has fallen 54.8 percent. In Detroit, the population decline is 61.4 percent. In Gary, Ind., it’s 55 percent. In St. Louis, it’s 67.2 percent. In Youngstown, Ohio, it’s 60.6 percent. Everyone needs jobs. Clallam County doesn’t have a lot to offer.

Except its forests.

The conversion of Clallam County’s trust lands to a carbon park has the potential to generate far more income than these stands currently produce as commercial timberland. If fully valued for their carbon-storing potential, we could double the income these forests produce for our schools, hospitals, fire districts and other public institutions, while offsetting lost timber jobs and diversifying our economy.

One of Clallam County’s most valuable resources comes from 92,525 acres of state forest transfer lands. These forest stands were acquired mostly through tax foreclosures going back to the Great Depression.

The DNR manages these lands as commercial forests for the people of Clallam County. For the past 10 years, these transfer lands have generated an average of $6 million a year for schools, hospitals, libraries, fire districts and other taxing districts.

These working forests also provide employment for loggers, truck drivers and mill workers. It’s not possible to estimate the exact amount of employment associated with these trusts lands, but it’s probably about 252 direct jobs, using a job multiplier of 6.5 jobs per million board feet of harvested timber. The average annual harvest over the past 10 years has been 38.4 million board feet of timber.

However, over-cutting in the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s, mechanization in the woods, modernization of mills and the export of raw logs to Asia have steadily cut into the number of workers that local forests — public and private combined — can support.

Employment is likely to fall further in coming years. The US Bureau of Labor projects that employment in all occupations will increase 7 percent by 2024. But during that period, logging employment is expected to decline by 4 percent.

In recent decades, Congress has given multiple subsidies to timber companies in the form of low taxes, reduced regulations and direct subsidies. In 1990, private timber companies were given the right to sell raw logs to mills in foreign nations, mostly Japan, Korea and China. Congress denied those same export rights to public timberlands. Because export markets typically pay 25 to 50 percent more for raw logs than domestic mills can pay, private timberlands have been able to make much higher profits than public timber lands.

These Congressional subsidies to timber companies, especially the export subsidies available only to private investors and corporations, have come at a continuing cost to timber communities in the form of lost jobs and reduced economic health. In 2014, the last year of the DNR’s biannual mill survey, more than 94 million board feet of raw logs from private timberlands were shipped out of the Port of Port Angeles, representing the loss of hundreds of local mill jobs.

As a result of these market pressures, investments in commercial timber lands over the past three decades have earned 50 percent higher annual returns than the typical stock on the Standard & Poor’s 500 index of large corporations.

But while private timber companies have thrived with record profits, timber communities have steadily lost jobs, income and economic vitality. At the same time, aggressive timber harvests to support Asian economies have cut into jobs in tourism and recreation, while putting salmon and other important wildlife at increasing risk of extirpation or extinction. All of these trends are likely to continue.

There is a better way.

The recent Paris climate accords, agreed to by virtually every nation on earth, set in motion plans to sharply reduce carbon dioxide emissions that are destabilizing the global climate, acidifying oceans, spreading droughts, sparking forest fires, raising sea levels, destroying crops, increasing storms and putting the survival of most species of higher life — including people — at risk.

The science backing the Paris accords acknowledges that reducing carbon dioxide emissions will not be enough. The United States and the world’s governments have agreed that all nations — including developed nations — must also begin to set aside forests to absorb excess levels of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

These concerns open the path for Clallam County to redeploy our forests for a higher good — and a more profitable purpose — as carbon sinks. Acre for acre, no ecosystem on earth comes close to the carbon-storing potential of the giant conifer ecosystem that runs along the Pacific Coast from northern California to southern Alaska. Our forests, when fully mature, can store more than 1,000 tons of carbon per hectare (2.5 acres) — at least twice as much as any other ecosystem on earth.

The election of Donald Trump and Randy Johnson make it unlikely that the federal government will follow through on its treaty obligations.  President-elect Trump has promised to scrap the Paris accords, and he is putting climate skeptics in key positions of government. So Clallam County has probably lost its chance to create a carbon park for at least four years, but it’s an idea that should not be dropped. Carbon emissions have destabilized the climate, and we’re going to need our forests to soak up excess carbon from the atmosphere. Soon, the government will be forced to act, and we should be ready to act quickly because it is in our best interests — and the best interests of the world — that we do so.

Here’s why.

The DNR’s recent survey of Clallam County’s 92,525 acres of transfer lands found 2.6 billion board feet of standing timber. Forest stands in this region with that much timber will store about 200,000 tons of carbon a year in trees, other plants and forest soils. That much carbon represents the removal of 734,000 tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere each year. And that amount of annual sequestration will increase for hundreds of years.

The current corporate market for carbon credits is immature, fragmented and inconsistent, but generally it pays about $12 a ton for sequestered carbon dioxide. The corporate markets count only the value of standing timber available for harvest; they do not give credit for storage of carbon in other biomass or in forest soils. These corporate carbon markets are not likely to match the timber income Clallam County currently gets, but the new world markets called for by the Paris accords will likely change the game by offering higher prices and giving credit for all the carbon a forest sequesters, not just the carbon sequestered in standing timber.

Forest soils typically store as much carbon as all the aboveground biomass. And marketable timber represents only half of the above-ground stored carbon in forests.

When a forest stand is clear cut, there is a loss of carbon in the harvested timber, in the other above-ground biomass and in the forest soils. Research shows that soils degraded by clear cut logging lose massive amounts of carbon, and those losses continue for years after the harvest. According to recent studies in the Pacific Northwest, it takes 15 to 20 years before a replanted forest begins to store carbon on a net basis. The young trees can’t store carbon fast enough to offset the continuing losses of carbon from the soil. And most private timber stands are cut on a 40-year rotation.

The US government has not yet established a program to use forests to sequester carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, but it has set a value for sequestered carbon dioxide at $36 a ton. And it has agreed to use forests for that purpose, raising the potential for Clallam County to switch its public forests from timber income to carbon income.

If the federal government pays for the full carbon-sequestration potential of our forests — timber, soils and other biomass — Clallam County would earn more than $26 million a year, which is a much greater return than the $5.8 million we now receive.

We could double the income to our schools, hospitals, libraries, fire districts and other junior taxing districts, and still have nearly $15 million to offset lost timber employment for 250 timber workers, using $50,000 a year for a full-time timber job. Most current logging jobs pay about $36,000 a year.

The carbon income would be steady, predictable and would rise each year as our forests mature and store more and more carbon. In addition, we’d diversify our economy and restore the health of our forests and wildlife. We’d have more clean and abundant water. Tourism and recreational jobs would increase.

If congress repealed the right of private timber companies to export our mill jobs to Asia, local employment would climb even higher.

The federal government, under the obligations that it took on in the Paris climate accords, is one likely source to pay the $36 a ton for sequestered carbon — and it would get good value for that investment. In addition to the carbon income that forests would provide, independent studies show that with each ton of sequestered carbon dioxide, our country would gain hundreds of dollars in benefits from the environmental services that intact, mature forests provide. In other words, a carbon park is an excellent investment for our future.

Because Clallam County is in the middle of the most productive carbon-storing ecosystem on earth and because the federal government has already committed itself to this approach, we have a good chance of winning federal approval — if we pursue this opportunity.

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