Washington State Supreme Court Affirms DNR Management of State Trust Forest Lands

The American Forest Resource Council today joined beneficiaries of Washington state trust lands in applauding the Washington State Supreme Court’s opinion in Conservation Northwest v. Hilary Franz, a case where Conservation Northwest attempted to undermine the Washington Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) fiduciary duty to manage these working forests, known as state trust lands.

The DNR manages over 2 million acres of state trust lands to produce sustainable timber supplies 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.

In western Washington, half of state trust lands have already been set aside for species conservation, in order to provide certainty for harvesting timber from the remaining half.  The ultimate intent of the lawsuit was to end ongoing, sustainable timber harvests on DNR state trust lands.

AFRC Travis Joseph had the following to say regarding the court’s opinion:

 “We appreciate the Washington State Supreme Court’s honoring of 134 years of precedent. We are pleased the Court has reaffirmed the DNR’s fiduciary responsibility to manage state trust lands on behalf of defined beneficiaries including counties, public schools, universities, fire districts, libraries, hospitals, and other community services.

“The trust mandate contributes to the social and economic well-being of communities throughout Washington. Public schools, counties and other community service agencies depend on revenues generated by DNR trust lands.  Our industry also depends on the sustainable source of timber provided by the state trust lands to stay in business, support thousands of family-wage jobs, and produce climate-friendly wood products that help reduce Washington’s carbon emissions. This opinion rejects, once and for all, legal attacks by anti-forestry groups to upend the trust mandate and the many benefits it provides.

“We hope this decision sends a clear message to anti-forestry groups who are working to undermine sustainable management of Washington’s state trust lands.  The Department of Natural Resources should take immediate action to fully implement its forest management goals, which includes providing renewable timber supplies needed for climate friendly wood products, green jobs, and revenues for critical public services.  Instead of continuing to be publicly bullied by anti-forestry groups, DNR and the Board should take this opportunity to celebrate the critically important work they do for Washington’s forests, environment, and communities.”

Skamania County Commissioner Tom Lannen had the following the say regarding the court’s opinion: 

“Skamania County is pleased with the State Supreme Court decision to uphold the BNR’s Fiduciary Obligation to the DNR’s Forest Trust Lands Management. Our county has less than 2% of our land taxable at full market value and we are highly dependent on these timber receipts, which have already been impacted by past policy decisions.  Further loss of timber revenues would require a reduction of 23 positions or 16% of our county employees, substantially diminishing our ability to provide already slim essential community services.”