ONRC advisory board may be resuscitated

An environmental research center that studies the forests and bodies of water surrounding the famous vampire hot spot of Forks, Washington, is now getting some political attention of its own. 

Sen. Jim Hargrove (D – 24th District, Hoquiam) hopes to resuscitate the Olympic Natural Resource Center’s (ONRC) policy advisory board during this legislative session.

The center, at Forks on the Northwest Olympic Peninsula, has been functioning with a de facto board since the legislature dissolved it and a host of other similar boards serving public entities around the state in 2010. 

The legislature’s senate committee on energy, natural resources and marine waters conducted a public hearing Jan. 11 to discuss Hargrove’s bill that would, if it survives the legislative process, reinstate the advisory board. 

Hargrove is the bill’s lone sponsor.

The center provides research and scientific information regarding forestry and marine problems in the region. The Olympic Peninsula is home to Washington’s Olympic National Park and Forest, acres of state forested lands, and is bordered to the west by the Pacific Ocean.  

The center also provides educational outreach programs through its Teaching for the Environment program, and has close ties to the Forks community, according to Thomas Hinckley, interim co-director of the ONCR.

The Legislature created the center in 1991 as part of the University of Washington’s School of Environment and Forest Resources and the School of Ocean and Fishery Sciences, and an advisory board was established to assist the center. According to the original legislation, the governor would appoint 11 members to the board and those members would represent state and federal government, environmental organizations, the local community, the timber industry and tribes.  The ONRC advisory board was eliminated in 2010 as part of a larger bill that passed in the Legislature in an attempt to, in the words of Hargrove, “make government more efficient.” 

Hargrove estimated 400 to 500 boards and commissions were eliminated. 

“A lot of things were stuffed in that bill that moved under the radar,” said Hargrove. 

Despite being eliminated, the ONRC board members continued to work as an advisory committee at the center’s co-directors’ request. 

“The board has been meeting, even though they’ve been dismembered. They’ve still been giving input. I don’t know that their input carries quite as much weight since they’re not official, so I think that this would help make that input more meaningful,” said Hargrove. 

Forks’ city attorney and planner Rod Fleck is one of those members. Fleck served as a community representative and continues to offer his time and input to the board. As for his role on the board, Fleck said, he brings “kind of a community focus on [the] projects” the ONRC works on. 

Bert Paul was also a member on the board. “I was one of the originators of the Olympic Natural Resource Center,” said Paul who thinks that the ONRC “brought economic impact and education opportunity” to Forks. 

Paul was the owner of Forks’ shopping center, Forks Outfitters, until he retired last year.  

Fleck and Paul continue to volunteer with the ONRC as community representatives.

Hargrove believes that an advisory board would help the ONRC keep its research relevant and focused. 

“Over the years, if your research center is only driven by researchers, sometimes the research gets to be a little bit disconnected from reality. I guess that’s the only way I can say it. So having a good advisory board with local people on it really helps keep research centered on real problems that we’re trying to solve out there. Not just research for research’s sake,” Hargrove explained.

Hinckley also supports the proposed legislation. 

“If the Legislature feels that this is the most effective way of doing it, we’re fine with it. The center would benefit from the prominence that a board appointed by the governor carries,” said Hinckley. 

However, Hinckley believes that the current advisory committee lacks representation of essential stakeholders, specifically the local tribes and National Parks Services.  

“We understand the value the ONRC has with the local community. We want to ensure we keep it that way,” said Hinckley. 

Professor Jim Fridley of the University of Washington’s School of Environmental and Forest Sciences and who is the university’s faculty legislative representative, is also a proponent of the legislation. 

“From our perspective we like to listen to the advice of the people who are direct beneficiaries of the work we do. . . . If the legislature would like us to take advice from a local advisory board in the Forks area, we’d be happy to do that,” said Fridley, who believes that making the advisers an official board would give it higher stature. 

The new legislation directs the governor to appoint eleven members to the board. However, Hargrove said that the members who have continued to advise the center would serve on the board as well, pending approval from the legislature and the governor. 

If the board is reinstated, members would not be paid for their services. 

If the legislation does pass, it would go into effect 90 days after the end of the legislative session.  
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