More than half the landscape in Washington State is covered with forestland; a massive 22 million acres, making the Evergreen State a key player in reducing the effects of global warming. Over 2.8 million of those acres are state trust lands managed as working forests by the Washington Department of Natural Resources.
How do these state trust lands battle climate change? Trees remove carbon dioxide (CO2) from the air. When they are sustainably harvested for wood products, the carbon is stored in the wood for the life of the product.
“Increased CO2 levels in the atmosphere contribute to climate change,” says Dr. Elaine Oneil, director of science and sustainability at the Consortium for Research on Renewable Industrial Materials. “Trees remove the CO2 from the atmosphere and store it in their wood for as long as they live and for the life span of the wood products made from the harvested trees.”
“The best way we can help address climate change through removal of carbon from the atmosphere is to plant, grow, manage, harvest, manufacture into long-lasting wood products, and repeat on an ecologically and economically sustainable rotation,” says Matt Comisky. Washington State manager of the . He’s also a trained forest engineer and forester.
Harvesting timber from DNR state trust lands and manufacturing it into wood products we use every day makes perfect sense because it’s a valuable tool in fighting climate change. And to keep that sustainable cycle going DNR replants three trees for every one harvested and has set aside nearly half of the lands under landmark conservation plans, says Comisky.
“Half a billion board feet of timber was harvested from DNR-managed lands from July 2018 to June 2019, including treatments to improve forest health and reduce wildfire risk in eastern Washington,” says Koshare Eagle, assistant division manager for product sales at Washington DNR.
Given climate change and the value our forests have for sequestering carbon at all life stages, there is increased push for use of wood products for building, Eagle says. “There is no better tool to sequester carbon than forestry – trees capture 14% of America’s carbon emissions. And when those trees are used for building, those carbon emissions stay sequestered while new trees are then allowed to take their place in the landscape and continue the process.”
Buildings made from concrete require an enormous amount of energy and use lots of fossil fuel, which contributes to climate change, Oneil says.
“Products like cross-laminated timber and other mass timber products have the potential to replace less environmentally friendly materials like concrete and steel in many buildings. Concrete and steel will likely always have a place in construction, but the ability to blend wood products like CLT with concrete and steel construction can help to build more environmentally-sustainable buildings,” says Comisky.
Unhealthy trees die and rot, releasing the CO2 back into the air. Overstocked forests may also burn, as evidenced by the vast number of wildfires in the western states in the past few years. Besides releasing carbon dioxide, wildfires also emit other gases that are even more harmful, especially to human health, says Oneil.
Active management of Washington’s working forests, including state trust lands, reduces not only the risk of wildfire, but also the severity, Comisky adds.
Many similarities exist between private working forest lands and state trust lands, he says. Both provide timber on a sustainable basis while ensuring high water quality, wildlife protections and other measures that benefit the environment. The difference with trust lands is they also provide much needed funding for community services.
There are nearly 3 million acres of trust lands managed for defined beneficiaries by the DNR. Mostly forest lands but agriculture and commercial properties are also held in trust by the state, Comisky says. These properties must, according to the law, generate revenue for the selected beneficiaries. Some of these properties called “County Trust Lands” provide funding that aids fire departments, emergency medical services, libraries, hospitals, roads and local schools in the counties where they’re located, he says.
A good example is the Timberland Regional Library System, with 27 locations in southwest Washington. Comisky says between 5%-7% of their operating funds comes from the revenue produced through timber sales on County Trust lands.
“On average these DNR managed trust lands generate $180 million each year. The largest of these beneficiaries is the Common School Construction Account which supports construction, maintenance and remodeling of public schools across the state,” says Comisky. “Also, local school districts that have existing bonds in place receive revenue from the “County” trust lands.
The job outlook for foresters and others who work in the “woods” is positive in the Pacific Northwest, he says. Active management requires well-trained and educated foresters, engineers, loggers, mechanics and a wealth of other positions that support working forests. Some sectors of the forest products industry are seeing an aging workforce that will need new workers and entrepreneurs to enter the profession.
Managing state trust lands and manufacturing wood products is good for the environment, economy and communities, says Comisky.
Super powers abound in the state’s forest lands.
American Forest Resource Council advocates for responsible management of public forestlands, including trust lands managed by the Washington DNR. Active management of public forests is the right thing to do — for the environment, for the economy and for the future.