Teaming with Other Nonprofits to Stop Timber Harvesting in Legacy Forests of Whatcom County
Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) manages more than 88,200 acres of forested lands within Whatcom County. “Manages” means DNR auctions on a 35-40 year rotation the forest parcels to the highest bidder to be clear-cut. Proceeds from such auctions go to beneficiaries such as school districts and universities.
Some of these DNR forest lands are increasingly rare older forests of legacy trees. (‘Legacy’ means almost old-growth, thus 80-120 years old). Often, a few old-growth trees are scattered within such parcels, too.
Key stat: Unprotected legacy forests that DNR can auction are approximately 6,400 acres, or 8%, of all DNR-managed forests within Whatcom County.
Why Does DNR Clear-Cut Legacy Forests?
The relatively massive trees in legacy forests hold more timber value per acre. DNR’s timber auction process currently prioritizes economic return, not a full range of community/societal/ecological values.
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 Legacy Forests Need to Be Preserved
Climate Resiliency. 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.
Biodiversity Support. Besides the climate crisis, we also are facing a biodiversity crisis from enormous loss worldwide of natural habitat and widespread species extinction. Legacy forests are wonderful oases for all forms of life. In contrast, plantation-style timberlands do not support much wildlife.
Economic Sustainability. Without an alternative approach, in a small number of years virtually all DNR-managed local legacy forests in Whatcom County will be harvested. Stopping clear-cut logging in legacy forests will reduce the total available acres of local logging lands (private and DNR) by less than 1%. It will have minimal impact on the local logging industry or on construction wood supply (much of which is exported out of Whatcom County anyways). Last but not least, local beneficiaries of DNR timber revenue can potentially receive equivalent income from carbon credits initiatives such as DNR’s recent Carbon Project.
WMTP is not anti-logging.
We believe logging within Whatcom County should only occur in existing plantation timberlands, NOT within our legacy forests — especially near the Nooksack River and its tributaries which are so vital for salmon. 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.
WMTP’s Advocacy Results To Date
In legacy forest advocacy, WMTP strategizes and assists other local nonprofits, such as Center for Responsible Forestry and Re Sources. We’ve been persuading policy-makers, encouraging media coverage, and providing public testimony at key hearings, for example.
As a result of our collective efforts, during 2022-23 DNR auctions of 89-acre “Upper Rutsatz” and 69-acre “Brokedown Palace” legacy forest parcels along the upper Nooksack were paused. While the future fate of these legacy forests is still uncertain, odds are increasing statewide that DNR will need to adjust its priorities to reflect the many special benefits these older forests provide.
Hopefully these healthy, diverse, mature legacy forests have a much better chance to be preserved — for perpetuity.