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Closure of 77,000 acres of Washington public forest spells trouble

Washington faces significant social and economic risks if anti-forestry groups are successful in pushing the Board of Natural Resources and candidates for Commissioner of Public Lands to close an additional 77,000 acres of public working forests in western Washington, known as Department of Natural Resources (DNR) state trust lands. These public working forests also provide clean water, wildlife habitat, climate change mitigation and recreational opportunities. Source: Timberbiz

This proposal would have far-reaching consequences, severely impacting public schools, local public safety agencies, public health services, universities, and other essential community services. These impacts are detailed in a new backgrounder provided by the American Forest Resource Council (AFRC).

Under the state constitution and law, DNR state trust lands are required to be managed to provide revenues to defined beneficiaries, which include public schools, local public safety agencies, and various community services.

The proposal also threatens jobs throughout Washington and would lead to devastating outcomes for the state’s infrastructure and economy. Currently, nearly 800,000 acres of state trust lands in western Washington are already off-limits to timber harvesting under a science-based, landscape-scale Habitat Conservation Plan developed by state and federal scientists.

Key Impacts of closing 77,000 acres of public working forests:

  • Public Services at Risk: Beneficiaries of state trust lands would lose $1.35 billion in timber revenue over 15 years, while state, county and local governments would lose $400 million in tax revenues generated by forest sector businesses. Critical public infrastructure, including K-12 school construction, university funding, fire departments, libraries, and hospitals, would be jeopardized.
  • Job Losses: The closure would result in a reduction of 3.85 billion board feet of timber, significantly impacting the state’s forest industry, which generates $36 billion annually in economic output to the state. An estimated 9,200 jobs would be lost, harming the livelihoods of thousands of families.
  • Threatens Infrastructure Needed to Reduce Wildfire Risk: The loss of DNR timber puts the mills and forest contractors needed to treat overstocked, fire-prone forests at risk of closure.
  • Reduced Forest Health Funding: The Department of Natural Resources would lose $500 million in revenue, putting funding for agency staffing and forest health activities at risk.
  • Impact on Housing: The lost timber volume is equivalent to enough lumber to frame over 450,000 homes, exacerbating our regional housing crisis.

Thurston County is already experiencing the impacts of closing state trust lands from timber management. Estimates from DNR show that junior taxing districts have lost at least $11.36 million due to political decisions to set aside these public working forests:

  • School Districts: Griffin, Olympia, Rochester, and Tumwater school districts have lost $7,324,198 in funding.
  • Fire Departments and County Services: The West Thurston Regional Fire Authority and county services have lost $2,444,922 in revenue.
  • Other Services: The Timberland Regional Library and the Port of Olympia have seen significant revenue decreases, losing $762,703 and $289,072, respectively.

“The proposed closure of these public working forests will have drastic social and economic consequences without benefiting our environment,” said AFRC Government Affairs Manager Heath Heikkila. “As we are already seeing in Thurston County, political decisions to close more state trust lands from management are harming public schools and local services. We urge the Board of Natural Resources and candidates for Commissioner of Public Lands to stand with working people and working forests by rejecting this harmful proposal.”

While anti-forestry groups claim these set asides will benefit our climate, a recent case study of a DNR timber harvest makes clear that proposals to set aside more DNR state trust lands will actually increase CO2 emissions as the supply of Washington-made wood products is reduced and carbon sequestration slows in these older forests. Reducing harvests from DNR working forests means we either build with wood substitutes (“substitution”) or ship our wood in from elsewhere (“leakage”).  Both are bad for our climate and environment.