Washington State plans to buy land to support existing forests

By Bill Stevenson
Omak Chronicle staff


OLYMPIA, WA- The state Department of Natural Resources plans to buy land to generate revenue for recreation maintenance in existing forests.

Three meetings in Seattle and Spokane are scheduled this month to take comments on a proposal by DNR to buy roughly 50,000-85,000 acres of private land to use as a revenue generator to pay for maintenance of state lands used for recreation, said DNR spokesman Todd Meyer.

"As pressure on the state budget grows, the funding needed to maintain trails and be a good steward of Washington's natural areas has not kept up with the need," said commissioner of public lands Doug Sutherland in a prepared statement.

DNR manages 2.2 million acres of forest land to fund construction of public schools, universities and state institutions.

The $200 million generated yearly is dedicated to those beneficiaries and $3.5 million is drawn annually from the state general fund for management of recreation and stewardship of state natural areas, said Meyer.

The land to be purchased would become the "Legacy Trust for Recreation and Conservation" to pay for recreation and nature areas, if the proposal is approved by the state Legislature, said Meyer.

The new trust land would generate funds through various activities including timber harvest, grazing and agriculture leases, he said.

Public comments are being sought to help shape policies for new trust land.

Meyer said past comments by eastern Washington residents and organizations on land acquisition issues led to the proposed element of the DNR paying property taxes on any land purchased as legacy trust land.

"It would be like private land and would pay taxes," Meyer said of proposed legacy trust lands.

DNR officials are looking at purchasing up to 85,000 acres, based on the annual revenue generated by the Capitol Forest near Olympia, said Meyer.

The amount actually purchased would depend on the types of land available, forest types and annual revenue the land could generate.

"The discussions have focused primarily on the west side (of Washington state), but nothing has been ruled out," said Meyer. "The key is the cost of land and the productivity."

Agriculture lands also would be purchased. Meyer said if agriculture land is purchased the DNR policy would be to lease it to farmers to generate revenue.

Details on how legacy trust land would be purchased and operated are being created using comments from a series of public meetings.

Meyer said the DNR is starting with meetings in urban areas to address recreation users' concerns.
"Bellevue has a ton of folks that are recreation users in that area," said Meyer.

Additional meetings in eastern Washington and in communities surrounding state forests will be scheduled at a later date, he said.

"These public meetings are an opportunity to present this new concept to the public and hear their thoughts and ideas so we can protect recreation and natural areas for generations to come," said Sutherland.

Money to purchase new lands would have to come from new sources, possibly bonds, said Meyer. DNR officials are reviewing funding sources and taking comments from the public on how to generate money to buy land.

"This is the beginning, there are going to be more meetings," said Meyer. "I think we are going to try to do more for state lands, especially on the east side" of the state.

More information is available on the DNR Web site at www.wa.gov/dnr.


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