What we need in our next Commissioner of Public Lands

The political action in Washington this year is in our state races. Five of the nine state executive offices are open, with no incumbent running: Lieutenant Governor, Treasurer, Auditor, Commissioner of Public Lands, and Superintendent of Public Instruction. We’re going to have a very different executive lineup next year.

One of those positions, the Commissioner of Public Lands (CPL), runs the state Dept. of Natural Resources (DNR) and has a direct effect on local economies and our public schools. For many areas of the state, especially those not part of the Central Puget Sound economic boom, the CPL controls lands that matter greatly to the local economy.

Those local economic impacts come from activities on DNR-controlled lands such as timber harvests, cattle grazing, and shellfish operations, as well as recreation and tourism. Our schools rely on DNR activities as well, with timber harvest monies being designated for school construction.

It’s fair to say I did not always agree with the retiring Commissioner, Peter Goldmark. You may have read about a high-profile dispute of ours in the papers. I didn’t think Goldmark always struck the right balance, but neither did he meet his most ardent backers’ wildest dreams. They spent big to oust the previous CPL, Doug Sutherland, and apparently expected Goldmark to shut down all logging. Goldmark didn’t fulfill that wish.

Maybe we should stop electing the CPL, as I’ve suggested before, but regardless the position will be on the ballot this fall. What should we want our next Commissioner to be?

Balanced: There is no shortage of outside interest groups who want to dictate the CPL’s decisions. The next Commissioner needs the wisdom and judgment to balance competing interests but always put the broader good ahead of narrow interests. The CPL needs to rely on solid science, not use science as a cover to reach pre-determined conclusions that please ideological allies.

Practical: A good Commissioner acknowledges local needs for DNR lands. They will also look for solutions for the long-term health of DNR forests. Could this involve thinning, controlled burns, or other techniques to lessen the intensity of wildfires? Some believe DNR should take a hands-off approach to the forests it manages, but that’s not what’s best for the state or adjacent landowners. The next CPL should also make a stand for public access. These lands and waterways will benefit in the long run by having a public that feels connected to and invested in them.

Focused on fiduciary duty: The agency’s founding purpose is to manage trust lands for the good of local schools. Some groups wish DNR was essentially a branch of the Sierra Club and that the CPL never allow any logging. The next Commissioner must remember their fiduciary duty to raise funds for school construction for the next generation of students.

An open office is an opportunity for a new direction. Keep an eye on this race this summer and fall, it’s one worth watching.
-Rob McKenna

The following two tabs change content below.
Rob McKenna
Rob served two terms as Washington’s Attorney General, from 2005 to 2013. He successfully argued three cases before the U.S. Supreme Court and negotiated three of the largest consumer financial protection settlements in national history, all involving mortgage lending and servicing. He is a recognized leader in the development of consumer protections on the internet, in data protection and privacy regulation.