Solutions: End the Mandate – Get the DNR Out of Education Funding

Our Children’s Education is Paramount! Students Deserve Quality Schools!

The DNR Mandate Clouds, Underfunds, and Limits Legislative Clarity on New School Construction Funding

Vashon Island High School Construction Project — 2013

Vashon Island High School Construction Project — 2013

Disappearing DNR (Dept. of Natural Resources) dollars leave too many schools unbuilt. While Vashon Island’s citizenry generously ponied up the multi-million dollars of property tax increases to expand their school above, too many school districts can’t and don’t pass the levies/bonds for new buildings/remodels because the absence of significant DNR money has made bonds affordable for most citizens, especially in low-income jurisdictions. Consider:

OSPI records indicate that over $15 billion worth of bonds have failed in the last 20 years, predominately in low-income jurisdictions like the Highline School District, where voters recently rejected a $376 million school bond measure. And then another one.

Without the four new/remodeled schools the district sought, many future Highline students will be packed into parking lot “portables,” along with 100,000 pupils statewide. This is unfair. And it is unconstitutional.

Until the 1980s, DNR timber revenues funded more than 60% of school construction costs. But volatile lumber markets, our population explosion, and harvest-impinging environmental regulations have cut the DNR’s share of costs to just 25% since 2002, according to OSPI.

The DNR mandate provides scant cash for school construction.

In 2014 for instance, DNR timber sales contributed a typical, minuscule $120 million to Washington’s $7.6 billion K-12 budget.

$120 million barely buys one new 4A high school. For the entire state! A drop in the bucket.

Support the McCleary decision – The Non-Alignment of the DNR Mandate with McCleary Could Require Dropping the Mandate from the Emerging, New K-12 Funding Plan

  1. To fulfill the Washington Supreme Court’s directive to fund K-12 education with “regular and dependable tax sources,” legislators should/must abolish the archaic DNR mandate and pay school construction bills with taxes, not timber — because timber dollars are not “tax sources” and as Tom Ahearne indicates, DNR dollars are neither dependable nor regular.”
  2. As Tom Ahearne, lead plaintiffs’ attorney in the McCleary case, observes: “McCleary confirmed the State’s Constitutional duty to amply fund not only K-12 operating costs but construction costs as well, a duty that to date has been neglected with a non‑ample hodge-podge of timber, lottery, and local funding that is neither dependable nor regular.”

For the DNR:

  1. The DNR could immediately trim off the substantial, self-perpetuating bureaucracy that surrounds its timber sales units.
  2. The agency could prioritize preservation and recreation and invest any profits from maintenance harvests into land rehabilitation projects, scientific research or buying new lands.
  3. To minimize loggers being laid off the DNR could employ them in the activities listed in number two.
  4. Since the DNR prizes education so much they could develop environmental schools, training camps, etc. for young people.

For K-12 Education Funding:

Note: Since the DNR contributed on average just $120-$200 million per year that is all that needs to be accounted for.

  1. See the full McCleary decision here.
  2. See McCleary funding requirements/background here.
  3. Raise revenue:
    1. A new state tax on capital gains could raise about $700 million per year in new resources.
    2. Legislators could extend tax increases passed in 2010 that are set to expire, generating $630 million in the next budget cycle.
    3. Legislators could pass an education dedicated income tax.
    4. Legislators could pass an education-dedicated 1 % increase in corporate B & O taxes.
    5. Legislators could redirect corporate tax breaks to our schools.

Other Solutions:

  • Sweeping Legal decision
  • Statute change via legislation- need help developing options here
  • DNR has its own Trust Land Transfer Program.
  • Major Investors– Paul Allen et al buy up more DNR trust lands
  • Big Names – Norm Dicks?!
  • Find/develop Creative Investment solutions – like Oregon’s’ The Opportunity Initiative — a proposal on the November ballot, could change the way Oregon funds college

A Mandate-less DNR could promote time proven practices and signal new priorities by renaming the current “TFW Agreement” (“Timber, Fish, and Wildlife”), the New “FWT Agreement” (“Fish, Wildlife, & Timber”).

Note: That “TIMBER” is listed first in TFW says it all.

“FWT” Forestry Fundamentals: Principles for Forestry in the Climate Change Era:

  1. Establishing water as the primary forest resource
  2. Managing for conservation, preservation, and restoration of fish and wildlife trumps — timber revenue is last in line as an obj.
  3. Forest -fire mitigation is key — the DNR could pioneer new planting and harvesting regimes that maximize forest fire mitigation effects and switch personnel from timber trust sales to fire prevention, mitigation, and fighting.
  4. Managing for long-term environmental and conservation goals trumps short-term revenue seeking goals.
  5. “New FWT Forestry Fundamentals:” Key Elements and Practices
    1. Mixed species forests: No more “mono-culture” crops of Douglass Firs to harvest like corn
    2. 80-150 year harvest rotations, depending on species, elevation, growing conditions, location, etc. (instead of curent 35-50 yr. DNR rotations) – Older trees use three times less water than younger trees and help retain it longer into the summer, according to EPA studies on the Nisqually River.
    3. Selective harvesting, with minimal clear-cutting
    4. Steep slope logging bans
    5. Double and triple sized stream vegetation buffers in drought prone-areas, etc.
Image result for dried up salmon in dry stream bed

Dead salmon in dried up river bed

Some groups are already addressing climate change’s impacts: for example, Forest and Water Climate Adaptation: A Plan for the Nisqually Watershed. Yet a DNR freed of fiduciary pressure to maximize tree harvests for schools would make such efforts far more widespread on the states 12.1% of state forestlands PLUS on Washington’s 35.6% privately held forestlands. (12.1% + 35.6% = 47.7%)

“Multiplier effect”: because private timber lands must follow DNR rules, almost half (47.7%) of our state forestlands would suddenly be managed in a FAR more progressive fish and wildlife friendly manner than they are currently. This “multiplier effect” is perhaps the single best reason to drop the DNR mandate.

“New FWT Forestry Fundamentals:” Restoring Cool, Steady Stream Flows

  • Salmon & steelhead need cold, clean water & adequate stream flows to survive
  • But DNR mandate style excessive logging of premature trees near streams
    1. increases water temperature
    2. decreases stream flows, especially non-peak, summer/fall flows
  • VIA: decreased water retention and soil stability, unnatural hydrological water flow increase during run-off/rain, increased slope-side erosion and sedimentation of river bed, increased stream-bank erosion, channel widening and spreading, shallowing of overall stream depth, lost deep water pools, decreased cold-water refugia, decreased water surface effective shading

Old Trees Save Water and Keep Streams Fuller and Cooler Longer!

Young vigorously growing forests can consume over three times more water than old forests according to field research report from the EPA on the Nisqually River (Moore et al. 2004). (THIS IS THE FACT OF THE DAY!)

Larger, older trees (100+ year rotations) include stream temperature reduction because:

They provide more “effective shade”

– which reduces water temperatures in main-stem salmon bearing streams and tributaries; and

– which reduces water temperatures in smaller creeks, cricks, draws, and seeps, all of which contribute to lower main-stem water temps.

Forest-wide and Statewide:

The benefits of the “New FWT Forestry Fundamentals” in the era of climate change

  1. Carbon sequestration – larger trees and more of them increase carbon sequestration and mitigation of local carbon pollution as well as oceanic carbon-based acidification, which is likely a cause of plummeting salmon returns (Large Old Trees Grow Fastest, Storing More Carbon,” U.S.G.S.; Released: 1/15/2014 )
  2. Insect infestations: Multi-species forests are less prone to devastating insect infestations than mono-culture forests (JOAE), and therefore provide less consolidated fule sources for forest fires
  3. Cold water refugia for salmonids: Larger trees retain more precipitation/moisture & release it more slowly during dry periods, helping to sustain low flows in creeks and rivers, helping to shade them as well and keep stream temperatures below fish killing lethal temperatures over 70 F.
    • This is crucial on the East side of the mountains in dry areas, but also in Western Washington where summer droughts drain streams so low that stream temperatures often obtain salmon killing temperatures in August and September.
    • Crucial cold water refugia for salmonids is enhanced by presence of mature trees and their enormous root wads, whether standing/or providing shade at streamside or laid down in the stream, providing shade, cover, and cool water in our ever warmer watersheds
    • Pools and current breaks formed around such trees form cold water refugia like “cold water stepping stones,” as in the Willamette River.
  4. Sediment delivery and in-stream sediment loading and scouring is mitigated by mature, mullti-species tree stands, with large root wad systems that hold soils and slopes in place much, much better.
  5. Slide prone areas, mature trees play a crucial role in limiting the intensity and severity of slide activity.
  6. Such mixed stands of mature trees and healthy, diversified forests provide a bulwark against the extreme weather patterns in the age of climate change.
  7. Flooding problems are mitigated by the “New FWT Forestry Fundamentals,” especially on the west side of the Cascades and in the Olympics, where more intense rains are expected to make river flooding a common and severe problem.