Sen. Karen Fraser and Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark have joined forces behind a bill to establish a state trust fund to protect working forest lands from conversion to residential or commercial use.
It’s a terrific idea because as Washington’s population has grown, more state trust lands and more productive timberlands bump up against suburban and urban development. Protecting those lands and keeping them in active forest production is difficult because of pressure to build new housing developments or commercial centers.
Timber production is not always compatible with surrounding land uses when urban sprawl gobbles up once-rural property.
As Goldmark says, “When lands are converted from forestry to development, the timber industry and the jobs it supports are at risk. In addition, the ecological and recreation values these lands provide to the community are lost.”
Senate Bill 5272, sponsored by Fraser, a Democrat from Thurston County, would create a new Community Forest Trust account. Existing state trust lands or private property (with a willing seller) that are at a high risk of conversion could be purchased or put into the Community Forest Trust for protection.
Acquisition tools would include:
• Trust land transfers
• Land exchanges and transfers
• State or federal appropriations
• Public or private grants
• Community forest bonds
In a meeting with The Olympian’s Editorial Board, Goldmark said the creation of the new trust is simply a “new tool” to allow the state, in partnership with local communities, to keep working forestlands producing timber. “This is about keeping forests in production,” Goldmark said.
He noted that just as with any of the other trust accounts, the Board of Natural Resources would have to approve any purchases, transfers or sales.
Under the bill, a local community investment/match would be required and together with the state, the local partner would establish revenue and conservation objectives for the property put into trust. A community working forest management plan would be developed specific to each parcel of property. Trust lands that fail to perform as agreed to could be sold.
Fraser said that what she likes about her bill is community control. “The community would have a say in how much timber is cut, how it’s cut and when it’s cut,” Fraser said. “A lot of communities – the Nisqually River corridor from Mount Rainier to the Nisqually Valley, for example – want to have forests in their vicinity, but want those forests managed in a way that’s sensitive to their needs as a community. This bill accomplishes that.”
There is no financial impact to the general fund under Senate Bill 5272 or its companion legislation – House Bill 1421, sponsored by Rep. Christine Rolfes, D-Poulsbo.
Making the case for the bill, Goldmark said since the 1980s, about 17 percent of Washington’s working forests has been converted to other uses. Those conversions impact local timber jobs and have ramifications for clean air and water, fish and wildlife habitat and private recreation.
“Community Forest Trust lands would be managed by the Department of Natural Resources to generate just enough revenue for self-management activities,” Goldmark said. He noted that 80 percent of the timber value is used directly to fund school construction across Washington state.
If the bill passes – and it should – Goldmark is proposing to transfer $2.5 million worth of trust lands into the Community Forest Trust, then work with local land trust managers, private property owners, city and county officials to increase the inventory and keep urban forest lands in active production.
Goldmark and Fraser have settled on a reasonable solution to protect forest lands from being gobbled up by urban sprawl. That’s good for the timber industry, communities and the environment.