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Comment: Proposal to close public commercial forests threatens important services and jobs in Washington state

Comment: Proposal to close public commercial forests threatens important services and jobs in Washington state

By Nick Smith

Washington faces significant social and economic risks if anti-forestry activists succeed in convincing the Board of Natural Resources and candidates for public lands commissioner to close another 77,000 acres of public forests, including those in Lewis County.

These commercial forests, known as Department of Natural Resources (DNR) trust lands, are not only a source of timber; they also provide clean water, wildlife habitat, climate mitigation, and recreational opportunities. The proposed closure would have far-reaching and severe consequences, impacting public schools, local public safety agencies, public health services, universities, and other critical community services.

Under the Constitution and state law, DNR trust lands must be managed to generate revenue from timber harvesting for specific beneficiaries, including public schools, local public safety agencies, and various municipal services. The proposal to close commercial forests not only threatens these important services, but also jobs across Washington, negatively impacting the state’s infrastructure and economy.

Nearly 800,000 acres of state trust lands in Western Washington are already closed to timber harvesting under a science-based, landscape-wide habitat protection plan developed by state and federal scientists. That number does not include the millions of acres of federally owned forests that remain unmanaged and increasingly vulnerable to wildfire.

According to government revenues and taxes EstimatesThe potential closure of these public forests would jeopardize public services, with beneficiaries of state trust lands losing $1.35 billion in forestry revenues over 15 years. In addition, state, county and local governments would lose $400 million in tax revenues generated by companies in the forestry sector. This loss would jeopardize critical public infrastructure, including school construction, funding for universities, fire departments, libraries and hospitals.

The labor market would suffer enormously. An estimated 9,200 jobs would be lost due to a 3.85 billion board foot decline in lumber production. This is significant for a state whose forestry industry generates $36 billion in economic output annually.

In addition, the closure would jeopardize infrastructure needed to reduce wildfire risk. Sawmills and forestry companies, essential to treating overstocked, fire-prone forests, would be at risk of closure without the lumber from DNR lands. The Department of Natural Resources itself would lose $500 million in revenue, jeopardizing funding for agency staff and forest conservation activities. In addition, the housing market would feel the impact, as the amount of lumber lost is enough to build over 450,000 homes, exacerbating the regional housing crisis.

Thurston County is a stark example of the consequences of closing state trust lands for forestry. According to DNR estimatesLower-rate tax districts have already lost at least $11.36 million due to political decisions to close off these public forests. School districts such as Griffin, Olympia, Rochester and Tumwater have lost over $7 million in funding. Fire departments and county services have lost $2.4 million in revenue. Other services such as the Timberland Regional Library and the Port of Olympia have also seen significant revenue declines.

While forestry opponents argue that these areas benefit the climate, Current case study of a DNR timber harvest suggests this is not true. Proposals to reserve more DNR trust lands will likely increase carbon emissions as the supply of wood products manufactured in Washington decreases and carbon sequestration in these older forests declines. Reducing harvests in the forests used by the DNR forces us to either use wood substitutes, which often have higher environmental costs, or import wood from elsewhere, which increases carbon emissions. Both scenarios are harmful to our climate and environment.

Closing 77,000 acres of public forests in Washington would have severe social, economic, and environmental consequences that we cannot afford. It threatens jobs, public services, and our ability to effectively manage forest health. The Board of Natural Resources and the candidates for Public Lands Commissioner must consider these far-reaching impacts and stand with working people and forests by rejecting this harmful proposal.

Nick Smith is director of public affairs for the American Forest Resource Council, an industry association representing Washington State’s forestry and timber communities.