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Public awareness of the value of Legacy Forests grows

Time for a new policy

For years, the Washington State Department of Natural Resources has treated its responsibility to manage state forests as requiring them to maximize timber harvest and revenue generation for public services including, especially, school construction.

The biggest logs, some over 4 feet in diameter, are stacked along the road after the Oyster timber sale in Whatcom County. Photo by Sarah Gardem

This is beginning to change. Community groups, local governments, environmental scientists and others have organized and begun working to demonstrate the unique and irreplaceable value of Legacy Forests.

The public at large is beginning to understand the role played by legacy forests not only in drawing down carbon but in providing irreplaceable habitat for wildlife. This awareness has come thanks to a variety of strategies and tactics ranging from tree–sitting, to community forest walks into planned timber sales, to energetic rallies in front of the Natural Resources Building, to consciousness–raising teach–ins in cafes, and online. Extensive news coverage of these activities has made it possible for the general public to recognize the value these forests represent both in themselves and as frontline resources in the climate catastrophe.

Political leaders such as Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal and the Thurston County Board of Commissioners have taken unprecedented stances in recent months. In July 2022, Reykdal, who sits on the Board of Natural Resources and whose agency receives more than 50% of DNR timber revenue, held a news conference in which he called for delinking K–12 school construction budgets from timber revenue.

Thurston County Commissioners sent a unanimous letter in June 2022 requesting that DNR cease all planned logging of legacy forests in Thurston County: “[The] majority of our remaining Legacy Forests are scheduled for cutting by 2026,” they wrote. “This is unacceptable to our residents from a variety of perspectives, especially as we struggle to meet local climate targets in our Thurston Climate Mitigation Plan in the face of accelerating climate change.”

On July 21, 2022, the Washington State Supreme Court issued a ruling in Conservation Northwest v. Commissioner of Public Lands, the “All the People” case. While the Court confirmed the trust mandate under which DNR operates, it found the State has great latitude in how to carry out its mandate—other than maximizing timber revenues. Page 23 of the Court’s ruling doubles down on this point: “There appear to be myriad ways DNR could choose to generate revenue from the state and forest board lands or otherwise put them to use for the benefit of the enumerated beneficiaries.”

More recently, the Environment and Climate Caucus of the Washington State Democratic Party approved a resolution calling on the Board of Natural Resources to develop a new management plan for State Trust Lands. The resolution seeks a policy that protects forest health, biodiversity and structural complexity.

Finally, the Washington State Working Lands Group (WSLG) of the Pacific Northwest and Forest Climate Alliance, recognizing the significance of the Court’s ruling in July, released a “Call to Action” for DNR to adopt policies that support rural communities and emphasize forest health, biodiversity and climate protection. See “Call to Action.”

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