Lobbying effort focuses on conservation fund
WASHINGTON — A coalition of conservation-minded lobbyists is meeting this week with Washington state’s congressional delegation to support funding for a program that helped fund a Dewatto Forest conservation easement straddling the in Kitsap-Mason county line.
The group, including representatives from Olympic Resources Management, a subsidiary of Poulsbo-based Pope Resources; Seattle-based land trust Forterra; and the nonprofit Washington Wildlife and Recreation Coalition, wants Congress to fully fund the $900 million Land and Water Conservation Fund that pays for endangered and threatened species habitat.
Hannah Clark, with the wildlife group, said they talked with U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor, about a working forest conservation easement for the Pysht coastal forest that would preserve a tree farm in Clallam County, and another conservation easement in Mason County. They also discussed a project to open public access to Lake Quinault in Olympic National Park. All three projects are in Kilmer’s district.
“It would conserve this fantastic habitat for salmon and orcas, but also keep it in working timberlands,” Clark said of the privately held Merrill & Ring tree farm along the Strait of Juan de Fuca in Clallam County. The coastline, with its views of Puget Sound, has been at risk of residential development.
All three projects are in the Obama administration’s 2015 budget but need congressional approval. Supporters of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which was established by Congress in 1965 and managed by the National Park Service, point out that it is funded through leases of public land used for oil and gas drilling, not tax dollars. If not reauthorized, it expires next year.
“I was proud to help successfully push our budget leaders to make critical investments in the Land and Water Conservation Fund,” Kilmer said Wednesday afternoon. “This program is crucial to maintaining sustainable resources and our region’s economy. Outdoor recreation continues to draw visitors and create jobs in Washington state, especially on the Kitsap and Olympic Peninsulas. Today I met with folks representing land trusts, forest landowners, ports, and advocates for conservation and recreation. They join me in wanting to strengthen the Fund and protect the natural gems of our region while furthering job opportunities.”
Adrian Miller, manager of policy and environment at Olympic Resources, said Pope supports the Land and Water Conservation Fund because it helps underwrite projects under section six of the Endangered Species Act for purchasing habitat and also funds the Forest Legacy Program. That permits conservation easements that, in effect, purchase the development rights from owners of pristine forests.
“It allows us to maintain our forest land business in areas where the price of land is increasing because of development pressure,” Miller said.