Amid climate crisis, a proposal to save Washington state forests for carbon storage, not logging

by Lynda V. Mapes
CAPITOL STATE FOREST, Thurston County — Older than Washington state, the biggest Douglas firs on this patch of state forestland have stood through more than a century of logging.

Part of a 180-acre timber sale auctioned off for $4.2 million last November by the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR), their next stop was a plywood mill. Then, something unusual happened.

Hilary Franz, state commissioner of public lands, pulled back nearly 40 acres with most of the biggest, oldest trees from the sale.

Now, this timber sale named Smuggler (sales are often whimsically named by state foresters) also is swinging open a door to a broader conversation in Washington, home to the second largest lumber producer in the nation, to rethink the value of trees on state lands not as logs, but as trees to help address the twin crises of species extinction and climate warming.

Franz is kicking off an examination over the next three to four months of all older forests on DNR lands west of the Cascades not already in conservation status — about 10,000 acres.

But that is nothing compared to positions staked out by two of her predecessors: Jennifer Belcher, commissioner from 1993-2001, and Peter Goldmark, commissioner from 2009-2017. They have launched a proposal to gradually stop all commercial harvest of state forests west of the Cascades, for what they see as a higher purpose: combating the climate crisis.

Nothing we currently know of works better than allowing trees to suck carbon from the atmosphere when they are living, and store it in their branches, roots and the forest soil for centuries after their death. Trees — especially mature forests — are the cheapest, fastest, most reliable form of carbon storage.

So-called proforestation is the leading edge of new science that finds intentionally leaving forests to grow bigger helps blunt the worst effects of the climate catastrophe. Of course, fossil fuel emissions must also be drastically reduced.

Franz said she opposes her predecessors’ proposal. She is concerned about preserving local timber supplies, mills, jobs and payments made from timber revenue to state trust beneficiaries for school construction and local government needs. State trust lands contributed more than $155 million in net revenue to those beneficiaries in 2018, most of it from timber harvests.

But she does want to take a new look at older trees. Not the old growth the state already protects, sprouted before 1850, among other characteristics. The older trees that are the giants of tomorrow.

Franz sees an opportunity to take a broader, more holistic view and create meaningful change that extends beyond the Capitol State Forest, she said in an interview.

Source: Amid climate crisis, a proposal to save Washington state forests for carbon storage, not logging – The Seattle Times, 2021-03-21