Washington Board of Natural Resources Should Reject Bully Tactics Over Management of State Trust Lands

Beneficiaries of Washington state trust lands urged the Board of Natural Resources (BNR) to follow the State Supreme Court’s opinion in Conservation Northwest v. Commissioner of Public Lands and meet its obligations to continue managing these working forests to fund critical public services.

Representatives of the beneficiary community sent a letter to the BNR as anti-forestry activists organized a rally today aimed at pressuring Board members to halt sustainable timber harvests on state trust lands.

In addition to providing timber and funding for essential community services, these working forests also provide recreation, wildlife habitat, clean drinking water, climate-friendly wood products and other benefits to Washington residents.

Sustainable Timber Provides Essential Funding for Schools, Community Services

The Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR) manages over two million acres of state trust lands to produce sustainable timber and generate long-term revenues for public beneficiaries including K-12 schools, universities, and fire and rescue.

The agency’s trust mandate is embedded in the state constitution, and state and federal laws, including Congress’ 1889 Enabling Act that brought Washington and three other states into the United States. The trust mandate was confirmed in a previous Washington Supreme Court ruling (County of Skamania v. State) in 1984 and reaffirmed by the Court in Conservation Northwest in July. In their letter, the beneficiaries expressed the importance of the trust land timber program to their communities:

“For decades, our communities have relied upon the trust relationship that requires the State to manage the trust lands to provide financial and economic benefits to our communities. Without this funding source, all our entities would be forced to cut services, and some of us would struggle to provide even a basic level of service. The Conservation Northwest litigation was a direct challenge to this system of funding.”

Board of Natural Resources Should Reject Bully Tactics

Despite the State Supreme Court’s complete and unanimous rejection of their claims in Conservation Northwest, anti-forestry groups are distorting the meaning of the Court’s opinion as part of an ongoing effort to halt timber harvests on previously managed, second-growth working forests. Beneficiaries urged the Board and the DNR to reject the groups’ bully tactics and enable public land managers to do their jobs:

“While some have attempted to twist the ruling in that case to convince you to turn your backs on the beneficiaries, this Board should review the actual opinion to ascertain its obligations. The Supreme Court rejected every single one of Conservation Northwest’s claims and eliminated any doubt about the existence of the underlying trust obligation…

 “Anti-forestry activists continue to vocally advocate that this Board ignore its Supreme Court-confirmed fiduciary obligations and turn its back on the beneficiaries. It is unlikely that this pressure will dissipate anytime soon. We are aware of the difficult positions you are placed in at times because of your position on the Board, and also thankful for your ongoing commitment to the trust mandate and the health of our communities.”

Half of State Trust Lands in Western Washington Are Already Set Aside for Conservation

In their letter, the beneficiaries noted that in western Washington, half of state trust lands have already been set aside to protect old growth forests and for species conservation in order to provide certainty for harvesting timber from the remaining half:

“DNR has committed approximately half of the trust land asset to conservation. Thus, many hundreds of thousands of acres that were once productive are now set aside to protect old growth, salmon, steelhead, spotted owls, and other threatened or endangered species. Conservation is important, but so is ensuring that the remaining operable lands are managed to maximize their productivity over time. Indeed, the beneficiaries have repeatedly been told by DNR that these conservation commitments were made to allow for more productive management of the remaining lands.”

Board Should Honor Trust Mandate and Manage Trust Lands with Transparency and Accountability

Now that the ruling in the Conservation Northwest case has strengthened the trust mandate, the beneficiaries urged the BNR to provide sustainable and predictable timber supplies and revenues by improving its Sustainable Harvest Calculation (SHC) for 2025-2034.

The SHC is the process for determining future sustainable harvest levels as mandated by state law on a ten-year basis. An accurate and transparent SHC provides certainty to beneficiaries that depend on timber revenues to provide public services. Reductions to DNR timber harvests and trust land revenues will result in layoffs and reductions in basic public services such as road maintenance, and emergency response:

Beneficiaries have raised numerous concerns with how the most recent calculation was done. Many beneficiaries have filed legal challenges. We believe that now is the time to put full resources toward getting the 2025-2034 sustainable harvest calculation correct and provide transparency and accountability to the beneficiaries. DNR cannot simply rely on past practice or expect its beneficiaries to be satisfied with business as usual. We encourage each of you to support proposals to improve DNR’s forest inventory, harvest planning, and transparency to ensure we get the upcoming sustainable harvest calculation right.

DNR state trust lands generate nearly $200 million per year in timber revenues for beneficiaries, including counties, schools, universities, hospitals, and more. For more information on these working forests, visit DNRTrustLands.org.