Whatcom County, Washington, councilors recommend formation of 11-member committee to give greater say to forest industry in land-use decisions, agree to exclude environmentalists, appoint eight industry members

BELLINGHAM, Washington , March 4, 2013 () – Foresters got an initial indication this week that they will be more formally involved in land-use planning in Whatcom County.

That sits well with people in the timber industry -- as long as competing interests don't derail a newly formed Forestry Advisory Committee, and decision makers pay heed to the committee's conclusions.

The Whatcom County Council's Natural Resources Committee recommended unanimously on Tuesday, Feb. 26, that the full council form the advisory committee. That council vote was not immediately scheduled.

A draft ordinance that would establish the committee was reworded Tuesday so the two private citizens on the 11-member body would be required to have "forestry expertise." Of the other nine members, eight would be from forestry and one would be from the state Department of Natural Resources.

Members would be appointed. There would be no pay for serving on it.

Members of Skagit County's Forest Advisory Board spoke at Tuesday's meeting in favor of a committee comprised exclusively of forestry people. Tom Nelson of the Skagit board said it would be "going down the wrong road" to introduce diversity into the committee with someone who, for example, represented environmental interests.

Whatcom County Council member Barbara Brenner agreed.

"We are the ones who after (the committee's decision) are supposed to bring on the public," she said.

Tom Westergreen, resource manager at Great Western Lumber Co. in Everson, said he didn't want a repeat of his experience on the Surface Mining Advisory Committee. Members from outside the industry stonewalled any decision the group tried to reach, he said. Then, any input given to the County Council was ignored, in his view.

"To bring our opinions forward and be disregarded, we're not going to be doing that too many times," Westergreen warned.

Council member Sam Crawford said the committee should bring vital information about the timber industry to the county's planning decisions, including how much timberland is available, and how much is needed to keep the industry viable.

Reach RALPH SCHWARTZ at ralph.schwartz@bellinghamherald.com or call 715-2298.

(c)2013 The Bellingham Herald (Bellingham, Wash.)

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