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Seattle PI: "Accord reached on state forests"

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March 22, 2006 -- In a stark break from their usual animosity, environmentalists and the state Board of Natural Resources on Tuesday settled their long-standing feud over protecting spotted owls and salmon on 1.4 million acres of state-owned timberlands.

http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/local/263877_forest22.html

By Robert McClure 
P-I Reporter

OLYMPIA -- In a stark break from their usual animosity, environmentalists and the state Board of Natural Resources on Tuesday settled their long-standing feud over protecting spotted owls and salmon on 1.4 million acres of state-owned timberlands.

"It's remarkable," said state Lands Commissioner Doug Sutherland, who has been the target of conservationists' ire for much of his five years in office.

The broad-ranging agreement commits both sides -- plus the timber industry -- to a dispute-resolution process to work out future disagreements before marching to the courthouse.

The accord stemmed from a lawsuit spearheaded by the Seattle-based Washington Environmental Council, which challenged plans by Sutherland and the natural resources board to increase the timber cut on state-owned lands in Western Washington.

It obligates the state Department of Natural Resources to try innovative approaches to forestry, including more labor-intensive thinning of forests overgrown from a century of fire suppression.

The pact also more strictly protects the older forests favored by spotted owls and requires the state agency to recalculate how much timber can be cut near streams that nurture salmon.

"There's a heck of a lot of work to be done under this agreement, and it's really how things pan out over the next couple of years that determines whether we have a new day here," said Becky Kelley of the environmental council. "But I can honestly tell you that everybody's giving it a good shot."

Kelley faced the news media alongside DNR and timber officials. "This is a pretty big deal," she said. "It's unusual for us all to be standing on the same stage -- much less espousing the same approach to forestry."

Bob Dick of the American Forest Resource Council, a timber group, said, "Everybody came out feeling they got a fair shake."

The timber industry and the DNR got something valuable out of the agreement: Environmentalists could have tied up the plans to increase logging for years. Now they won't.

"This constant litany of lawsuits is really, really frustrating, and if we can get past that, we will have done a really good thing for everyone," Dick said.

It remains to be seen whether the DNR can still cut as much timber as originally projected and still live up to the agreement.

Money earned by logging state-owned forests helps support a number of government functions. Public schools reap the most earnings, covering about 12 percent of school construction costs. Universities, community colleges and counties also benefit.

"This is a resolution of this issue, but we've learned maybe how we can work together in the future," said Bob Nichols, an adviser to Gov. Christine Gregoire.

Sutherland credited the environmentalists for coming to the negotiation table with a mind to compromise, even after winning the court case.

"Reason can prevail," said state Superintendent of Public Instruction Terry Bergeson, a member of the natural resources board.