Skagit County has appealed a state timber harvest plan that is expected to result in less revenue for local taxing districts.
The Skagit County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office filed a complaint Monday in Skagit County Superior Court regarding the Board of Natural Resource’s adoption Dec. 3 of a sustainable harvest calculation for 2015-2024.
The Board of Natural Resources is the governing body of the state Department of Natural Resources, which manages forest lands held in trust for local taxing districts.
The sustainable harvest calculation is the agency’s method for planning timber harvest on those trust lands over a 10-year period. It is based on state and federal requirements to provide local taxing districts with revenue and to maintain habitat for protected wildlife.
Skagit County, along with the Sedro-Woolley and Concrete school districts, Hospital District 304 in Sedro-Woolley and the Central Skagit Library District, are asking the court to invalidate the state’s plan and remove lands within Skagit County from state control.
“Skagit County has serious concerns about the state’s management of our community’s trust assets,” the court document states.
In Skagit County, Natural Resources manages 84,628 acres of forest lands, generating timber harvest revenue for local school districts, hospitals, libraries and other county services.
Nearly all of those trust lands are zoned as industrial forest under the county’s comprehensive plan, which the court document states indicates a communitywide expectation to see those lands continue to operate as working forests.
“Skagit County and its people have explicitly decided, through the Skagit County Comprehensive Plan and other statements of policy, that sustainable forestry is to remain a part of our community’s long-term future,” the court document states.
From 2009 to 2018, taxing districts in Skagit County received about $76.4 million in timber revenue from lands managed by Natural Resources.
The Sedro-Woolley School District received the largest sum — about $30.5 million — during that time, according to the court document. The county’s road fund received about $13.5 million, Skagit County EMS about $2.8 million and the Concrete School District about $2.5 million.
“In a small rural county, these amounts are highly significant to budgets and finance plans,” the court document states.
A significant loss of that revenue could mean lost jobs and lost services including at area schools and medical facilities.
Already, the Sedro-Woolley School District has decided to take a loan to reduce the impact of declining timber revenue, with the school board last week approving a five-year, $3 million limited general obligation bond.
Natural Resources Deputy Supervisor for State Uplands Angus Brodie said the decline in timber revenue is the result of a trade-off agreed to in 2004 by counties including Skagit. The trade-off was to harvest more timber under the previous 10-year plan to boost revenues, and then to harvest less while those forests regrew.
Brodie acknowledged the complex nature of setting sustainable harvest levels and said Natural Resources will establish a technical advisory committee that will include county representation for future plans.
“We are all working toward the same future — one where working forests provide jobs in our rural communities, generate critical funding for schools and counties across the state, and provide abundant habitat and clean water for humans and wildlife,” he said.
Skagit County, meanwhile, plans to hire a consultant to review Natural Resource’s planning documents and methodologies to better understand how the agency has been managing local trust lands and why local taxing districts are suddenly seeing less funding.
“Revenue from (state) timber sales provides over $7 million a year to Skagit County,” county Commissioner Lisa Janicki said in a news release. “We have an obligation to stand up for our community and investigate this abrupt decline in revenue.”