Comment: State needs lawmakers’ oversight on public lands’ use

A DNR plan to set aside working forests as carbon offsets should be reviewed and debated by lawmakers.

By Sam Low / For The Herald

Snohomish County is home to public working forests that provide sustainable timber, outdoor recreation, wildlife habitat and many other benefits to county residents. These benefits are at stake as the Washington state Legislature debates the future of state trust lands managed by the Department of Natural Resources.

State trust lands are working forests because, under state and federal laws, they are required to be managed to generate revenue for beneficiaries including public schools and community service providers including fire districts, hospitals and libraries. This trust mandate was recently affirmed again by the Washington State Supreme Court.

As a Snohomish County Council member, I have supported these public working forests because they sustain a variety of services without adding costs to our county taxpayers. Timber from these lands not only support our forest sector and good-paying jobs, but they also contribute to K-12 education and the quality of life in communities across our region.

But some in Olympia want to sever this important connection between state trust lands and funding for schools and community services. They are seeking to shut down these working forests under the assumption that unmanaged forests will store carbon forever, even though the continuous cycle of forestry and the use of wood products provides far greater climate and environmental benefits over the long term.

Without the approval of the Legislature or the Board of Natural Resources, the DNR has already moved to shut down thousands of acres of state trust lands and sell carbon offsets that will do little to reduce net carbon emissions. Carbon offsets on these public lands simply enable faraway polluters to continue polluting, all at the expense of Snohomish County residents and others that depend on working forests and timber revenue.

Half of our state trust lands in Western Washington are already reserved for wildlife conservation, and there are existing protections for old-growth trees on state and federal lands. State trust lands are also managed under strict environmental regulations and through advanced and science-based forest practices.

If mitigating climate change is really the goal, the best thing we can do to reduce carbon emissions is to manage the remaining unreserved forests, store carbon in Washington-made wood products, and replant harvested stands with young trees that sequester carbon at higher rates compared to older trees.

Shutting down these working forests will limit our ability to maintain forest resiliency, enhance and restore wildlife habitat, and reduce the risks of large carbon-emitting wildfires. It would actually increase our carbon footprint by promoting the use of less carbon-friendly building materials such as concrete and steel or more imports of wood products from other countries that do not have our environmental standards.

As a newly-elected member of the state House of Representatives, I am prepared to participate in debates over the future of our public working forests. The Legislature has a responsibility to provide oversight and clear direction for the current and future management of state trust lands and the implementation of the DNR’s flawed carbon project.

Snohomish County is fortunate to have abundant and renewable public and private forest lands that meet the many needs of our communities. It would be a mistake to change course in favor of short-sighted policies that threaten jobs, education and community services. As your state representative, I am looking forward to having this conversation and advocating for real solutions in Olympia.

State Rep. Sam Low, R-Lake Stevens represents the 39th Legislative District. He also serves as a Snohomish County Council member for District 5.

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