State forest trust lands are important for schools, rural economies

by Ashley Bach

We should always remember how critical Washington’s forest trust lands are to the funding of our schools, libraries and fire districts, as well as our rural economies and the health of our forests. Jim McEntire writes in the Seattle Times this month from experience. He’s a former member of the state Board of Natural Resources and is also a former Port of Port Angeles commissioner and former Clallam County commissioner.

Washington citizens own 2.1 million acres of state-forest trust lands, and these lands are managed by the state Department of Natural Resources for the benefit of various trust beneficiaries, the largest of which is the state’s K-12 school system. Money from timber sales and agricultural land leases provide a substantial and dependable revenue stream to the Legislature and local school districts, greatly helping to fully fund basic education and school construction — more than $124 million in 2015 — plus more money in timber sales from lands held in trust for counties.

State trust lands accounted for 45 percent of Washington’s total contribution to K-12 school construction in the 2007-2009 biennium. Of course, timber revenues are not the entire answer to solving K-12 school funding, but they are a vital part of the overall funding plan. These revenue sources do matter — a lot.

State forest trust lands are an asset we need to keep, not just for our state and local funding but for for the health of the forests and for rural communities, McEntire writes.  

It is not in our overall interest to let our working forests go — we would have our state’s biggest publicly owned economic and environmental asset end up like our federal forests: overcrowded, unmanaged, unhealthy — a tinderbox for wildfire. Effective management of healthy trust-land forests is critical if we are to get essential revenue, provide important habitat for fish and wildlife, and cool, clean water and enable our trees to be effective carbon sinks that help in the effort to mitigate against climate change.

Compromising the health of our forests by not maintaining harvests on state trust lands would mean drastic reductions in jobs and timber for Washington mills and rural communities.Washington is the second-largest timber-producing state in the country, supporting 106,000 jobs and $5.2 billion in wages, much of it outside urban areas. Eighteen percent of the annual harvest comes from state forest lands. This timber is legally prevented from being exported, and thus it directly supports our domestic timber market. A substantial amount of it is processed in local mills, which sell in-state, regionally and even nationally.

Our state-forest-trust-land system is an integral part of the past and future success of all of Washington. It has such deep and wide-ranging positive impacts, in fact, that we should be considering how to expand it.

This post first appeared on the One Voice Blog.