Washington’s Commissioner of Public Lands presides over more than five and a half million acres of state forests and aquatic lands. It’s an open seat in the upcoming 2016 election, since incumbent Peter Goldmark announced his decision not to run for a third term. One of the top priorities of the office is the constitutional mandate to fund schools through logging. But conservation is also part of it.
Goldmark recently celebrated one of his crowning achievements: protecting more than 10,000 acres in the Middle Fork Snoqualmie Natural Resources Area near North Bend. The area was added to the state’s Mountains to Sound Greenway and is experiencing a renaissance after decades of neglect.
Knkx environment reporter Bellamy Pailthorp joined Goldmark on the new Granite Creek Connector Trail in that area to take in some of the scenery and ask him what the job will be like for his successor. The two remaining candidates after the August Primary are Seattle Democrat Hilary Franz, executive director of the growth management watchdog group, Futurewise and Republican Steve McLaughlin, a former officer in the U.S. Navy who lives in Seabeck.
Goldmark is not endorsing either candidate but he said whoever wins will likely face an uphill battle getting enough future funding for fire suppression.
“I worked hard after the 2015 fire season, which burned over 1 million acres – a record here in the state of Washington – to secure funding,” Goldmark said. He says he only got $6.7 million of the $24 million he felt was needed.
“Unfortunately, the legislature meets in the late winter and early spring, when fires are not present on the landscape, so the threat is more theoretical and less real than many other things. It’s really hard for the legislature to really understand the enormity and the threat that’s present, so it’s a hard conversation with them.”
And Goldmark says the threat of climate change has made that reality even more urgent.
“We have increased fires, which are in the opinion of many a result of climate. We have rapidly disappearing glaciers, which is undeniably hopefully evidence of climate. We have rapidly acidifying ocean and Puget Sound, which is climate connected. We have inhibited growth of trees through drought and high temperature. There’s so much evidence about the reality of climate,” Goldmark said.
He says he has been in dialogue with scientists over the past 2 to 3 years and will leave his successor a summary of his findings on the most prudent path forward for the state’s biggest manager of public lands, in light of climate change. He says conservation will always be a part of the job and Goldmark feels it’s an important value to carry forward, as is the need to continue supporting education through the management of public lands, “because as we know, education funding is very short across the state.”
He points to the recent preservation of aquatic lands near Hood Canal through an easement with the U.S. Navy as an example of the kinds of things that could be done moving forward, with all of these priorities in mind.
“There’s a lot of work to do yet and I think there’s a lot of opportunity for innovation in the office, so hopefully one of the candidates who’s successful will find other ways to innovate,” he said.