State Public Lands commissioner to protect old-growth forest
January 21, 2004
The move would protect about 54,400 acres of old-growth forest, according to Department of Natural Resources estimates.
Washington state manages about 2.1 million acres of forest land, selling the timber to raise money for school construction, universities, county government, fire districts and other public needs.
Sutherland said protecting the old growth would only affect about 1 percent of the trust revenue.
“I know I’m going to anger both sides,” Sutherland said. “Some will say it’s too much, and some will say it’s not enough. But that’s the arena we work in.”
Loggers and environmentalists have long battled over the fate of old-growth forests. In 1990, the spotted owl was listed as a threatened species under the federal Endangered Species Act. Millions of acres of federal and state forest land were declared off-limits to protect the owls’ favored nesting habitat, old-growth forests. Thousands of logging jobs disappeared, crippling some rural economies.
“There’s no question that old growth forests generate a lot of emotion in people, a lot of passion,” Sutherland said.
Sutherland, a Republican elected in 2000, will present his plan to the state Board of Natural Resources at its next meeting in February. The six-member board, of which Sutherland is a voting member, guides decisions about state trust land.
Board member Bruce Bare, dean of the Forest Resources School at the University of Washington, said the news took him by surprise.
“It’s a bolt out of the blue,” Bare said Tuesday evening. “As a board member, I would certainly want to look at the impacts.”
The board is currently in the middle of a two-year process to determine how many trees should be cut each year on state trust land in Western Washington, where most of the state’s old growth trees are. Members are considering many different options, from aggressive logging to passive management of the land. Sutherland said the old-growth proposal would be part of the planning process. The board is expected to pick a final alternative by June.
Environmentalists have long urged Sutherland to put old growth forests off-limits.
“These forests are important,” said Becky Kelley, campaign director for the Washington Environmental Council. But, she said, the good news about old-growth shouldn’t overshadow the board’s larger decision about the state’s overall timber harvest.
“We shouldn’t be distracted by 3 percent of the land base,” Kelley said.
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