Amid climate crisis, a proposal to save Washington’s state forests

Amid climate crisis, a proposal to save Washington’s state forests

Conservation Northwest / Mar 22, 2021 / DNR, Protecting Wildlands, State Forest Lands, State Trust Lands

Historic case asks the State Supreme Court to interpret the plain terms of the Washington State Constitution providing that state forests are held in trust “for all the people.”

For three decades Conservation Northwest has worked to protect and restore old forests on Washington’s state and federal public lands, from the Olympic Peninsula to the Cascade Mountains and Colville National Forest.

Now, our historic case to interpret the plain terms of the Washington State Constitution providing that all the public lands granted to the state are held in trust for all the people is headed to the State Supreme Court, and made the front page of the Sunday edition of The Seattle Times with reporting by Lynda Mapes.

[Former state Commissioners of Public Lands] Peter Goldmark and Jennifer Belcher are calling for the creation of a new class of state forest trust lands: the Washington State Ecological Reserve, implemented by retiring 5 percent per year of westside forest lands from commercial harvest over 20 years.

They acknowledge it’s a big change — but say that is what is needed in a time of climate crisis. “Now is the opportunity time,” Belcher said. Goldmark agreed.

“I just see everything differently, now in light of the greater crisis of climate change and the importance of doing something transformative,” said Goldmark.

The call for a new look at state forests is coming from other directions, too.

The state Supreme Court has agreed to review a case at the request of Conservation Northwest, and other environmental groups, to reconsider the interpretation of the state constitution as it relates to management by DNR of state trust lands.

DNR puts proceeds from state trust lands toward construction for K-12 schools and local government needs, including fire, hospital and library districts.

The suit argues DNR lands are to be managed to benefit all people, not just to maximize economic return for trust beneficiaries.

“We don’t think these lands need to be managed so hard for extraction,” said Paula Swedeen, policy director for Conservation Northwest.

State forests like this one near the Nooksack River provide habitat for marbled murrelets, fishers, elk, salmon and many other species, as well as opportunities for outdoor recreation. Photo: Chase Gunnell

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For the future of our forests, wildlife and communities

We don’t believe protecting Washington’s State Forests to fight climate change and support clean water, wildlife habitat and outdoor recreation needs to hurt school funding or good jobs in rural communities. This can be done through more forest thinning where it’s needed, as well as longer timber cutting cycles or “rotations”.

Along with local residents and our allies at Washington Environmental Council, Olympic Forest Coalition and Washington Forest Law Center, we are urging the Court to hold that the plain terms “for all the people” and Washington’s unique federal land grant history authorize and require the State and Commissioner of Public Lands to manage these three million acres of state public lands for the greatest value for all Washingtonians, including both revenue from timber AND other public benefits derived from our forests such as tribal treaty rights, outdoor access, fire resiliency, carbon sequestration, and habitat for threatened and endangered species.

These public lands must be managed for “all the people”, as Washington’s State Constitution directs. We’re committed to working with the Department of Natural Resources, local communities and the legislature to create a better future for everyone who depends on our State Forests.

More information is available in this March 12 joint statement from our organizations. We thank you for your support, which makes our work for Washington’s forests and other public lands possible. We’ll keep you updated as this historic legal case over the future of Washington’s state lands proceeds.


Learn more about our work for State Forest Lands on our webpage, or in this blog from Mitch Friedman, our Executive Director.