Tag Archives: Washington Department of Natural Resources

Coming next week: ideas to reform state agencies

Reporter Austin Jenkins of KUOW offered a piece this week about a government reform study under way in Washington state, particularly involving three natural resource agencies.

He quoted Gov. Chris Gregoire from her second inaugural address, in which she raised the issue: “We have three agencies managing natural resources, each with its own scientists standing in the same Washington stream. We need to reform and we will.”

When I heard the example of the scientists in the stream, my reaction was not to be alarmed about government inefficiency. Instead, it suggested to me that government officials — even at the highest levels — have no clue about how science works.

I would not be alarmed to see a bunch of scientists from even the same agency standing in that stream at different times. We could have, for example, a bunch of fisheries biologists, each focused on his own discipline — stock identification, population dynamics, pathology, behavior, genetics, not to mention regulatory duties.

We could have something similar for other state agencies, and then there are university scientists and independent researchers, all adding to what we know about that stream. OK, the stream would need to be especially important or interesting to warrant that much attention, but the number of scientists involved from one or more agencies says nothing about the need for government reform.

I have no doubt that Gov. Gregoire knows something about science, having served as director of the Washington Department of Ecology. I suspect that a speech writer working for her simply chose a poor example to make a point.

I’m sure the governor would agree that we don’t need clumsy reform conducted by people who fail to understand science or the inner workings of natural resource agencies. I felt reassured after talking to the governor’s policy director, Robin Arnold-Williams. Reform, she told me, may not mean consolidation of entire agencies.

“There might be realignments or better ways to share and coordinate,” she said. “The governor’s number-one priority is to improve service.”

I could speculate about the ways our natural resource agencies could better coordinate. But I am patient enough to wait until next week. That’s when a committee working on such reforms plans to release a list of ideas for review by the public and everyone involved.

First, comes a full discussion, Arnold-Williams said. After that, the best recommendations will be forwarded to the governor, commissioner of public lands and the Fish and Wildlife Commission, who could well make some significant changes.

Stay tuned. This could be interesting.

Forest Legacy grant protects more than 2,100 acres

Some $3.3 million from the federal Forest Legacy Program will be used to purchase development rights on 2,100 acres of Pope Resources forestland adjacent to both Green Mountain and Tahuya state forests.

forest1That’s almost as good as putting these lands into one of the two state forests, which is something that could happen in the future. See my story in today’s Kitsap Sun.

Jon Rose, who works on long-term plans for Pope, says the land near Tiger and Panther lakes was under pressure for development. Now, the land will be retained in forestry uses.

The property, which straddles the Kitsap-Mason county line and lies adjacent to Bremerton’s vast watershed, can be found in the upper reaches of the Tahuya watershed — and that was how it was presented to the U.S. Forest Service. The Forest Service administers the Forest Legacy Program and lays out priorities for future acquisition.

The property will provide habitat for a variety of species and help maintain clean water in nearby salmon streams. A forest management plan spells out how and where logging can occur, with protections included for streams, wetlands and related buffers.

Washington Department of Natural Resources is designated to apply for Forest Legacy money in this state. Since 2000, about 20 properties in Washington have been acquired. Thirteen of them are in King County, three are in Kittitas, two are in Snohomish and one is in Pierce. Check out the list of properties through 2008 (PDF 40 kb).

Proposed geoduck farm would use mesh tubes

A group of property owners on Hood Head in northern Hood Canal say they have joined forces to lease a nearby beach from the Washington Department of Natural Resources — mainly because they didn’t want to see what a typical commercial geoduck farm might do to the beach near their part-time homes.

The DNR never went through with the lease, instead imposing a moratorium on geoduck farms on state land until more research could be done regarding the environmental effects. For information, including a report to the Legislature on geoduck farming, see the Department of Ecology’s page about the Shellfish Aquaculture Regulatory Committee.

But the Hood Head owners, having spent money on various kinds of beach surveys, are still pursuing a permit from the Army Corps of Engineers (PDF 5.8 mb) in case the lease goes forward in the future.

I outlined their ideas in a story published in today’s Kitsap Sun. Bruce Olsen, whose name is on the application, said he is convinced that using plastic mesh tubes to protect the geoducks will be less environmentally damaging than plastic pipes used on other geoduck farms.

I did not include in my story any comments from those who are opposing geoduck farms in other areas — mainly because the folks I talked to were unaware of the tubes that I described. Still, I can tell you that some people are skeptical of any operation in which one species would dominate a beach.

Would that be the result if geoducks were grown a foot apart on Hood Head? And would the disruption of the beach during harvest activities be an acceptable price to pay for economic returns on the giant clams, which fetch a considerable amount of money on the international market?

Geoduck harvests are debatable, but lucrative

Geoduck harvesting remains controversial. Some people are convinced that it creates long-lasting damage to the seabed and to the creatures that dwell on the bottom. Others are equally convinced that damage is minimal and does not last very long.

I have never determined for myself if one side or the other is absolutely right, or if it depends largely on bottom conditions at a specific site. As a reporter, I continue to listen to both sides and try to give them each fair treatment.

One thing is for sure, however: The money that goes into state coffers from the sale of geoducks is quite remarkable. In a story published in today’s Kitsap Sun, I quote state officials who say the market has remained strong, despite the downturn in the economy.

In a single area north of Blake Island in Kitsap County, the state will receive $1.4 million for geoducks harvested this year alone. Similar amounts can be expected from that area for the next few years.

I will entertain comments and links to documents from anyone who wants to discuss the damage issue. I must give some weight, however, to the National Marine Fisheries Service, which has approved a Geoduck Habitat Conservation Plan and incidental take permit under the Endangered Species Act. (See the NMFS Web site on geoducks.)

The reports, which are based largely on research by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, give the geoduck fishery a “low-effect” rating when it comes to threatened and endangered species.

“A low effect HCP is one that NOAA’s Fisheries Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determine to have minor or negligible effects on federally listed, proposed, or candidate species and their habitats covered under the HCP,” according to the NMFS Web site.

Taylor Shellfish case ends quietly, but several issues remain

Washington Department of Natural Resources and Taylor Shellfish quietly resolved their dispute behind closed doors, then announced the $1.5 million settlement yesterday.

It was a dramatic turnabout in tone from the battle waged in legal documents and news releases just a few weeks ago, when Taylor officials were claiming rights to state land. The issue grew out of a finding that Taylor had planted shellfish on state tidelands and was “trespassing” on state property.

See the story in today’s Kitsap Sun for the latest, including these statements:

Peter Goldmark, commissioner of public lands: “This is a fair and equitable agreement for the people of the state of Washington. We will continue working with the shellfish growers in our state to ensure that this sustainable industry creates jobs and generates revenue for restoration projects in Puget Sound.”

Bill Taylor, owner of Taylor Shellfish: “”This agreement is a win-win for both Taylor and the DNR. We are pleased with the outcome. With this issue behind us, we look forward to focusing on our operations, creating jobs and stimulating our local economy with our business activities. Now more than ever, working families need the types of jobs that Taylor provides.”

Among the questions that remain are whether other shellfish growers may be encroaching on state tidelands, what Goldmark intends to do about this overall question and whether Taylor’s legal claims could be used by another grower. Beyond that, are the debates about geoduck aquaculture that will soon begin to play out at the county and state levels.

Here’s a chronology from the stories I have written since this dispute started:

July 22, 2008: Shellfish Company’s Encroachment Raises State Revenue Questions

Oct. 29, 2008: Taylor Shellfish Faces $1.3 Million Fine

Dec. 23, 2008: Lease With State Would Let Taylor Shellfish Recover Its Geoducks

Jan. 13, 2009:
DNR, Company Settle Shellfish Farming Dispute (AP)

Jan. 13, 2009: New Lands Commissioner Could Have Final Say on Taylor Shellfish

Feb. 5, 2009: State Agreement With Taylor Shellfish Put on Hold

Feb. 23, 2009:
Lawsuit Filed in Taylor Shellfish Dispute

March 4, 2009:
Taylor Shellfish Makes it a Federal Case

March 13, 2009:
State Lays Out Case Against Taylor Shellfish

May 6, 2009:
Lands Chief Settles Dispute With Taylor Shellfish

The following are Water Ways entries I have written:

July 23, 2008: Tideland boundary questions could be Pandora’s Box

Oct. 30, 2008:
Should the state look for more encroachments on its tidelands?

Jan. 14, 2009: Taylor offers evidence to justify shellfish trespass

Feb. 24, 2009:
Legal writing rarely reaches this level of precision

March 9, 2009:
Taylor shellfish case: Pandora’s box has been opened

March 18, 2009:
DNR says Taylor Shellfish claims are all wet

May 7, 2009: Taylor Shellfish case ends quietly, but several issues remain

Unofficial trails raise questions for future county park

It appears that local trailbikers have taken it upon themselves to upgrade makeshift trails on state land in the Newberry Hill area of Kitsap County.

Without permits, a boardwalk was built on state land destined to become a county park.
Without permits, a boardwalk was built on state land destined to become a county park.
Kitsap Sun photo

The work — including installation of wooden boardwalks, concrete pavers and plastic culverts — was all done without permits or review by state or county authorities charged with protecting the environment.

So are these unofficial trail-builders good guys or bad guys?

That is, are they well-meaning folks who just happened to bypass the approval process? Or are they a calculating group trying to ensure that their wishes for the land become stamped into the landscape before anybody can question whether trails are appropriate for certain areas?

Kitsap Sun reporter Brynn Grimley raises this question in a story in today’s Kitsap Sun.

The state property in question is destined to become part of Kitsap County’s park system, thanks to a proposed land exchange. Those working on the Newberry Hill trials apparently are part of a group that deserve thanks for volunteer work on trails at another county park — Banner Forest. But there appears to be an important difference: Banner Forest went through an extensive planning process to decide what uses were desirable and appropriate given environmental constraints.

I have not been to the property nor discussed it’s environmental values, and I promise to keep an open mind. It does seem fair, however, that when the county goes about planning this park, no priority should be given to keeping open trails that were built illegally — or, to put it more kindly, trails not officially sanctioned. After all, trails can be removed if that’s what people want.

From Brynn’s story:

Planning for the future of the park could get tense as officials wade through the differing opinions of how the land should be used…

The county also probably won’t remove the trails once it acquires the land from the state, said Chip Faver, Kitsap’s parks and recreation director.

But Central Kitsap Commissioner Josh Brown said the public will determine the uses of the park, not one interest group over another.

“An individual or a group doesn’t get to squat on county property and determine its use,” he said. “I don’t want to in any way discredit the work of volunteers, I appreciate their enthusiasm, but they need to work through the public process like the rest of us.”

DNR says Taylor Shellfish claims are all wet

Washington Department of Natural Resources has fired back at Taylor Shellfish Farms, making the debate over a disputed trespass more interesting than ever.

Taylor says the state property where the company has been growing shellfish should have been conveyed to private property owners in 1905. Everyone has assumed through the years that the property was in private ownership. Consequently, the company should own the property today, according to the company’s position, which is based on many technical legal arguments.

Not so, says the DNR, which shows in its filing how previous surveys and sales of tidelands indicate that past property owners understood the boundary lines. Taylor’s claims are without merit, according to the agency.

I outlined DNR’s arguments in a story in today’s Kitsap Sun. One may also read the document filed in Thurston County Superior Court (PDF 1.6 mb).

Meanwhile, Taylor has filed a damage claim of $4.5 million related to this case.

It could be an interesting court battle, but I suspect that neither side wants to end up in a courtroom, where spelling out all these arguments could be long and intense. On the other hand, each side may be convinced that it is 100 percent right, which could make a settlement more difficult.

If there is a desire on both sides to settle this case, I suggest that they begin by agreeing to a harvest management plan for the shellfish in the disputed beach. Taylor claims that its damages are continuing, in part because some of the geoducks should be harvested right away. Agreeing on how to manage the shellfish, pending a resolution of the case, could set the stage for further discussions.

Legal writing rarely reaches this level of precision

Taylor Shellfish Farms has filed a lawsuit against the state regarding the company’s so-called “trespass” on state tidelands in Totten Inlet. See my story in today’s Kitsap Sun.

I’d like to say something here in a nonjudgmental voice, taking neither side in the legal battle between Taylor Shellfish Farms and the Washington Department of Natural Resources:

I found a work of art in the legal complaint filed by Taylor’s team of lawyers.

Given the complex and obscure legal theories, I can’t begin to predict how this will turn out. But I want to say that the complaint drafted by the law firm Gordon Derr was written with such precision that anyone can walk through the document and not feel lost in what could have been a dense jungle of legal arguments.

Download the complaint (PDF 2.2 mb) from the Kitsap Sun’s Web site and read it for yourself. But remember that we have not yet heard the arguments from the state’s side. Maybe it’s all empty rhetoric, but I thought it was worth giving credit for the writing itself. I can’t tell you how many times I have struggled through legal documents trying to understand much simpler arguments than these.

Whether the state’s counter-arguments would be as eloquent may never be seen. Public Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark has expressed interest in settling this out of court. His only point, according to his chief spokesman Aaron Toso, is that he wants the settlement and lease agreement to be open for public review and discussion.

Bill Dewey, spokesman for Taylor, told me a couple of weeks ago that Bill Taylor was disappointed with a meeting he had with Goldmark on Feb. 9. The meeting followed Goldmark’s decision not to lease the property to Taylor for the time being. See the Feb. 5 story in the Kitsap Sun.

Taylor expected in the meeting to talk about issues regarding the company’s inadvertent use of state tidelands and how to work through the problems. But the discussion never got beyond a general overview of the shellfish industry.

It seems likely that Taylor left the meeting convinced that he needed to take a stand, thus the filing of the lawsuit.

Toso told me this morning that Taylor had been informed in advance that no lawyers were going to be present and that Goldmark did not want to get into what could be considered negotiations.

“We had conveyed on two different phone calls that we weren’t going to be negotiating in that meeting because we didn’t have lawyers there,” Toso told me. “The commissioner understands that the shellfish industry is an important part of Washington’s economy. It’s still the commissioner’s goal that this can be settled outside of a courtroom.”

Taylor offers evidence to justify shellfish trespass

The Washington Department of Natural Resources and Taylor Shellfish Farms have reached an agreement that could settle trespass damages — or maybe not.

The damages resulted from Taylor’s cultivation of geoducks on state-owned lands and include back lease payments, taxes, interest and compensation for DNR staff time. See my story to be published in tomorrow’s Kitsap Sun.

Taylor officials say they have always believed that the land in question was owned by the company. Apparently, they have convinced DNR officials as well as Commissioner of Public Lands Doug Sutherland, who worked out the details of the settlement agreement (PDF 1.8 mb) as he prepares to leave office.

Some environmental folks and local residents of Totten Inlet don’t believe for a minute that Taylor was an innocent party.

The case has grown more and more complicated. I’m still wading through the details, but my latest story takes a stab at explaining Taylor’s arguments in favor of a verdict of innocence. For more details, download Taylor’s presentation (PDF 2.5 mb) to the state.

I’m not sure at this point if the incoming commissioner of public lands, Peter Goldmark, will jump into this issue, but late this afternoon his spokesman, Aaron Toso, issued this statement:

Commissioner-elect Goldmark has said all along that there needs to be public involvement in this process. By the looks of this agreement, the people of the state are silenced in an attempt to sign a lease during the comment period.

I’ll be interested to see — and report on — the next chapter in this strange controversy.