New Wash. lands commissioner reaches out to rural communities

2017-06-16 Ashley Bach

Newly elected Washington Public Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz just announced the Rural Communities Partnership Initiative, a new program that will partner the Department of Natural Resources with rural communities on development projects. 

The initiative focuses on stimulating local economies in sustainable, clean ways. From innovative farming methods to forest restoration to recreation to clean energy, no prospective project is too small for consideration. Suggestions and inquiries for those interested in the program can be made at dnr.wa.gov/rcpi.

...“The Department of Natural Resources plays a significant role in economies and communities around the state, yet we have the capacity to do considerably more. We bring a significant amount knowledge, expertise, assets and the ability to convene many groups – local, state, federal, tribal and private. This initiative will push for innovation and opportunity. We think it’s time to explore what’s possible in Washington State and we aren’t afraid to try and on occasion, fail. The will to try new things and our commitment to the communities we live in is what sets our work apart,” says Commissioner Franz.

Franz accompanied the announcement with a two-day tour last week visiting five rural communities: Colville, Prosser, Willapa Bay, Port Angeles and Darrington. (Click on the cities to see media coverage from each of the stops.) Each of the commissioner's meetings received lots of local attention and interest.  

In Port Angeles, DNR timber volume and revenue was a topic of discussion.

(Franz) promised to look into concerns such as those expressed by Forks City Attorney-Planner Rod Fleck, Port of Port Angeles Commissioner Steve Burke and Clallam County Commissioner Randy Johnson.

Fleck, Burke and Johnson complained of receiving scant information from DNR on timber volume and revenues from forest land managed by the agency, making it difficult for tax district public policymakers to set budgets and make planning decisions.

Johnson, a former president and CEO of Green Crow timber company, told the Peninsula Daily News that he was satisfied with Franz’s responses.

“I think her response to most everything in general was very, very good,” he said.

“I think she cares about rural areas.”

After her meeting in Darrington, Commissioner Franz received praise from the Everett Herald editorial board.

From the editorial:

“Rural issues are hot right now,” said Darrington Mayor Dan Rankin, as an evening meeting finished up June 8 at the town’s community center.

Which is why he and others in the town of nearly 1,400 are encouraged by and encouraging a new initiative by the state Department of Natural Resources and its newly elected public lands commissioner, Hillary Franz, to make investments in the state’s rural areas, regions that are most dependent on the natural resource lands managed by state and federal agencies for jobs, their economies and revenue for school construction and local government.

...One concern raised with Franz is that teens in Darrington and similar communities no longer see the potential for careers in their hometowns and don’t see opportunities in jobs that rely on resource production. Another (resident) wanted to see more done to communicate to those who come to the region’s trails that recreation and resource production are compatible uses.

Franz agreed, and sought local efforts to address those concerns, recognizing those who live and work in these communities as the real authorities.

“The communities know their lands and their people,” she said.

As the state’s largest on-call fire department, firefighting remains a major responsibility for the DNR. But Franz’s work to refocus the agency’s resources on the economies of rural communities reflects a renewed commitment to the stewardship of the state’s public lands through the involvement of the people who live closest to those lands.