Goldmark keys in on forest health and climate change; begins second term as Commissioner of Public Lands

Here are the complete Inaugural Remarks of Peter Goldmark to the Department of Natural Resources on Wednesday, January 16, 2013, at the beginning of his second term as Commissioner of Public Lands:
Peter Goldmark
Peter Goldmark, Commissioner of Public Lands, delivers second inaugural address on Wednesday, January 16, 2013. Photo: Nancy Charbonneau/DNR.

Good afternoon, everyone and thank you, Lenny for that introduction and for your service to DNR and the state as Supervisor for the department. You have brought a keen understanding of many complex issues to your duties and have done a magnificent job of solving problems and providing leadership within the agency.

I would also like to thank the members of my family, who are here with us today.

It is both an honor and a privilege to be elected to a second term as Commissioner of Public Lands for the great State of Washington. We are fortunate to live and work in a state whose landscape is naturally beautiful and productive. Our state is replete with some of the earth’s most productive agricultural lands and is forested with the world’s premiere evergreen species in terms of both productivity and quality. I know this first-hand: by having lived and worked here almost all of my life; having climbed the tallest mountain; having hiked many, many miles over high mountain trails; and having visited nearly every corner of our state in both private and public life. We at DNR shoulder the responsibility of keeping these natural resources productive and beautiful for the future. Our legacy is to walk this line: to productively steward these precious natural resources in a manner that sustains a revenue stream for the trust beneficiaries and conserves that which is rare and wonderful.

Over the course of my first term in office, DNR has produced $921 million of non-tax revenue for education and other trust beneficiaries. These revenues flow mainly from timber harvested on state trust lands but also from geoduck and wheat sales. While revenue production for the trust beneficiaries is our primary mission, we also endeavor to maintain forest cover throughout the state. Thus, we have purchased 10,500 acres of lands threatened by development for working forest and permanently protected an additional 22,000 acres of land for conservation. This includes about 7,500 acres that comprise the newly designated Middle Fork Snoqualmie Natural Resources Conservation Area. This NRCA, home to many threatened and endangered species, is a unique landscape encompassing low-, mid-, and high-elevation forests, in a prime location to help meet both critical habitat needs and the growing demand for recreational opportunities.

We also reviewed over 17,000 Forest Practices Applications to ensure that rules are followed to protect aquatic resources during timber harvest and associated road construction on state and private lands.

Fire suppression is another huge responsibility at DNR. Over the past 4 years, we partnered with other jurisdictions to suppress 2,895 fires encompassing over 114,000 acres. This past fire season was particularly difficult due to very hot, dry conditions in August and September, together with a severe dry lightning storm on September 8th that sparked several hundred wildfires in eastern Washington.  

Management of state-owned aquatic lands is another of our major responsibilities. We have devoted much of our attention in this area to Puget Sound, a treasured jewel of our state. Our major accomplishments include a settlement of the long-proposed gravel mine on Maury Island, with the land now transferred to King County for park purposes. Chronic overcrowding of the moorage in Eagle Harbor was also resolved, and we created 3 new, large aquatic reserves at Protection Island, Smith and Minor Island, and the Nisqually Delta. We are also working toward adoption of an aquatics HCP that will help protect species in all state waters including rivers and lakes in eastern Washington.

We have successfully met many challenges. When I took office in January 2009, DNR was in a budget crises with a crashing timber market complicated by a huge hole in the state budget as well. As a result, we had to drastically reduce spending including a significant number of very painful layoffs and curtailment of non-essential expenditures large and small, including things we used to take for granted such as subscriptions to professional journals and coffee at board meetings. It was a very difficult period, but timber values have recovered somewhat and spending is now back in line so that we were able to distribute an additional $10 million to Washington’s 19 timber counties last year. When it comes to the State Uplands, we know that our first priority is our fiduciary responsibility to the trust beneficiaries, and we make decisions accordingly.

We also faced the challenge of deteriorating forest health, particularly in eastern Washington. A changing climate together with insect infestations and overstocked stands have created a forest health crisis that requires swift action. By working with federal and state appropriators, we were able to secure needed resources to start the restoration work in 2009. Efforts to date have treated 34,308 acres, but there are hundreds of thousands more acres to go. We must continue with all haste. Forests that have been treated and restored by thinning are more resilient to drought and disease while also being less susceptible to catastrophic fire damage. There is an urgent need to continue this work in the years ahead.

Our aquatic lands are also at risk as a result of a changing climate. The marine waters of Puget Sound are becoming more acidic, as are all marine waters around the globe. This acidification is threatening the state’s shellfish industry because more acidic water interferes with normal shellfish growth, particularly at early developmental stages. Through participation on the Governor’s Blue Ribbon Panel on Ocean Acidification, we learned that this threat is more severe in Washington State than in many other locations and will require significant efforts to protect both farmed and wild marine life. The effect of acidification on the wild geoduck fishery that we manage is unknown. Many state and tribal and programs depend on the revenue derived from this fishery, so not unlike our forests, careful scientific analysis followed by appropriate management actions must be taken.

Our work is cut out for us. A changing climate perhaps resulting in more severe weather events coupled with rising temperatures will make our land management responsibilities more challenging. Add in the high likelihood of more difficult fire seasons, acidifying marine waters, and increased population pressure on state trust lands, and the picture is daunting.

Challenging as the future may be, I have every confidence in the DNR team. When fires start, we respond and put them out; when derelict vessels become a threat, we respond and deconstruct them; when state lands have a difficult timber sale, we figure it out. I could go on–DNR is a “can do” agency and we will continue to be successful throughout the full extent of our considerable mission.

In closing, I would like to thank all of the DNR staff for your service to the people of our state and for the positive manner in which you rose to the challenges of the past four years and will undoubtedly do so in the future. I am proud to be your Commissioner.