Protecting Our Drinking Water Quality — and More — in Lake Whatcom Watershed
Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) manages nearly seven thousand acres of forested trust lands within the Lake Whatcom Watershed. “Manages” means DNR auctions on a 35-40 year rotation forest parcels to the highest bidder to be clear-cut. Proceeds from such auctions go to beneficiaries such as school districts and universities.
DNR’s timber clear-cutting within Lake Whatcom Watershed harms our community in three key ways…
Clear-cut Impact #1: Reduces Our Drinking Water Quality
Timber clear-cuts in Lake Whatcom watershed negatively impact our community’s drinking water quality. How? By increasing sediment and herbicide runoffs into the lake. Lake Whatcom provides drinking water to 100,000+ people and is one of the very few remaining unprotected drinking water reservoirs in the state.
Lake Whatcom’s water quality is slowly DECREASING, despite millions of dollars spent by local agencies to improve the water quality. Although largely due to development around the lake, clear-cuts also contribute to the problem.
In our new era of torrential rains/storms, the minimal buffers that DNR provides around its clear-cuts, nearby tributaries, and logging roads are inadequate to protect from damaging accelerated sediment runoff from the newly exposed land. The fast storm flows contribute to phosphorus and herbicide loading in Lake Whatcom.
Clear-cut Impact #2: Loss of Legacy Trees & Their Benefits
DNR auctions occur in increasingly rare older forests in Lake Whatcom watershed that hold legacy trees. (‘Legacy’ means almost old-growth, thus 80-120 years old). Often, a few old-growth trees are scattered within such parcels, too.
Why does DNR auction such special parcels? Those massive trees hold more timber value per acre. DNR’s timber harvest process currently prioritizes economic return, not a full range of community/societal/ecological values.
Mature, naturally regenerated, diverse, legacy forests are the most potent natural way to mitigate floods, heat domes, and mega-wildfire potential within Whatcom County. Those forests also provide the highest carbon capture per acre of any forests in our county. All of these benefits are urgently needed in our new climate era.
Clear-cut Impact #3: Loss of Healthy, Mature Forest Habitats
DNR’s industrial-style timber clear-cuts are followed by slash burning, herbicide sprayings, and then replanting of usually one species — Douglas fir. The fresh monoculture of trees grow and then are eventually thinned to become a uniform, plantation-style timberland. After 35-40 years, the trees are clear-cut again and the cycle repeats itself.
The process is more akin to growing a crop. It does not create healthy, mature forest habitats. Why is that important? Here’s why: Besides the climate crisis, we also are facing a biodiversity crisis from enormous loss worldwide of natural habitat and widespread species extinction.
DNR logging by law must avoid impacting a few listed endangered species (such as the Northern Spotted Owl). But that’s where their habitat protection efforts in forest parcels currently stop.
WMTP’s Advocacy Results To Date
Together with other local nonprofits, we collectively organized and led a strong advocacy and publicity effort during 2022 about the “Bessie” parcel in Lake Whatcom watershed that was due to be auctioned by DNR. This public campaign eventually persuaded DNR to assign the “Bessie” parcel and other trust lands (1,400 acres total within Lake Whatcom watershed) to their first-ever Carbon Project.
DNR’s Carbon Project is their first attempt to raise revenue for beneficiaries by earning carbon credits from preserving mature trees instead of cutting them. Our joint success will conservatively save 280,000 trees in our drinking watershed!
We believe logging within Whatcom County should only occur in existing plantation timberlands, NOT within our community’s drinking watershed OR in legacy forests. We recognize our society will have a continued demand for wood. Wood products CAN be part of a more sustainable future, especially when harvested selectively and responsibly. But that is not what’s occurring currently. Not even close.
Bottom line: Our community’s drinking watershed is NOT appropriate for timber clear-cutting. WMTP will continue to do all we can to reduce that industrial clear-cut logging in this location.
• Interesting in helping us advocate for more watershed legacy tree protection?Please let us know!