Sustainable management needed for forests

If you have ridden your mountain bike in the Capitol State Forest near Olympia, hiked at Tiger Mountain east of Seattle, had a drink of water in Bellingham or seen a lynx padding through the snowy Loomis Forest in Okanogan County, you have interacted with your state forests.

Washington has 2.1 million acres of forested lands managed by our Department of Natural Resources (DNR). You can find these forests all around our beautiful state. Money from logging the state forests helps fund public school construction and county services.

These forests are a tremendous natural legacy for the people of Washington. But there is tension between protecting public resources like water and wildlife and cutting as many trees as possible for maximum short-term revenue. Today, public resources and recreational opportunities often get the short end of the stick.

Protecting the environment

The Washington Environmental Council (WEC) has worked for more responsible logging since the early 1970s. Now we are launching a major effort to make our state forests a model of sustainable forestry. We made some progress over the last eight years with former Commissioner of Public Lands Jennifer Belcher. However, it is unclear whether the current commissioner, Doug Sutherland, will continue the trend of improving and modernizing state forest management. Early signs are not good - in spring, 2001, he proposed several reductions in wildlife protection measures.

WEC has embarked on a three-year campaign to improve management of the state forests, creating a model of sustainable forestry that protects the environment and benefits all citizens of the state. We aim to protect the remaining old growth on state lands and the many other benefits from state forests, such as clean drinking water, wildlife habitat, school construction funding and recreation. We welcome the input and support of people from around the state as we work to implement the campaign.

As Washington citizens we value our heritage, including old-growth forests. There are just shy of 80,000 acres of trees 150 years and older on 2.1 million acres of state-managed forest land. Some of this old growth is protected, but much of it remains vulnerable to being logged. Protecting this small amount of our natural legacy is a conservative and responsible path to follow. However, unless there is a policy change, DNR's logging target will assume continued logging of old growth. If Commissioner Sutherland moves ahead with his proposal to reduce wildlife protection, it is likely that more old growth could be logged sooner.

Opportunities for change

The next several years provide three opportunities to move toward sustainable forestry on state lands:

* The 10-year management plan for state forests is up for review in 2002;

* 1.2 million acres of state forests have been conditionally approved for "green certification" under Forest Stewardship Council standards, if the state makes significant improvements in its forestry operations; and,

* The state will be recalculating how many trees should be cut during the next decade on state lands.

The six-member Board of Natural Resources (Commissioner Sutherland, four beneficiary representatives and a representative of the governor) sets policy for the state lands. This board is the decision-making body for recalculating how many trees will be cut in state forests for the next decade. It is also responsible for reviewing the 10-year forest management plan. Updating this plan will have impacts on the cut level as well.

The board also will decide whether to move ahead with green certification. Forest Stewardship Council certification could move state forest management toward sustainability and highlight the financial and environmental benefits that responsible management can provide.

These opportunities are set amidst a context of financial and legal arguments that have, to date, prevented truly sustainable management of our state forests. Forcing people to choose between adequately funding school construction and wisely managing state forests is foolish and unnecessary. Even with past overcutting of state forests, the revenue generated from our state forests is only a fraction of what schools need. We must foster discussions of supplemental funding for school construction. As our state's population grows, sustainably managed state forests can provide a stable supply of revenue for schools, but only a small portion of the overall need.

Becky Kelley coordinates the Washington Environmental Council's (WEC) Sustainable State Forests campaign. The WEC (www.wecprotects.

org) works to protect the waters, forests and wildlife of Washington by advocating for new laws, enforcing existing laws, and making the public's voice heard.

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