January 11, 2007
State forests threatened, UW think tank says
A UW College of Forest Resources think tank says Washington forests are being threatened from within.
Among the pressing issues:
- Western Washington forests are being converted when the land becomes more valuable if used for such things as suburban housing and commercial development. New UW research says the process in the coming decade could consume more than 300,000 acres of forest, an amount of land comparable to five cities the size of Seattle.
- After suffering through drier and warmer conditions in excess of 100-year historical ranges, Eastern Washington’s brittle forests are ripe for insect infestation and wildfires.
- A $16 billion-a-year tree industry — that ranges from large industrial owners to woodlot owners with just a few acres — is facing transitions because of competition from outside the state and a timber supply constricted by regulations.
The 90 participants in the latest UW Northwest Environmental Forum concluded that incentives, innovations and investments by the state are among the things needed if Washington wants to improve the competitive and environmental performance of its timberlands.
Go to http://www.nwenvironmentalforum.org/documents/2006summary.pdf for a summary of the forum proceedings. The full 137-page proceedings and a series of interim reports produced by the UW to give the most up-to-date snapshot of the state’s timberlands and forest industry is available at http://www.nwenvironmentalforum.org/.
The reports pave the way for policy recommendations being developed by the Washington Department of Natural Resources for the 2007 Legislature. The 2005 Legislature appropriated $1 million to the department and UW to take a comprehensive look at the future of Washington forests, see http://www.dnr.wa.gov/htdocs/agency/wffstudy/.
Part of that effort involved the Department of Natural Resources in discussions with a broad range of stakeholders, including those attending the most recent UW Northwest Environmental Forum. Forty-two organizations, ranging from Audubon Washington to the Yakama Nation, attended the forum, according to Bruce Bare, dean of the UW College of Forest Resources. The college has conducted forums each of the last three years on the way to hammering out various options.
“The forum attracted a diverse spectrum of people interested in forest solutions, some of whom have not seen eye-to-eye on issues in the past,” forum leader Brian Boyle wrote in the summary of the Nov. 20–21 meeting. “Over 90 people representing forest companies, small landowners, environmental advocates, Native American tribes, the Legislature, government agencies and land conservation organizations worked together at the forum. Given the wide range of viewpoints and the different interests represented at the forum, it was no small achievement for this group to be able to recommend a package of solutions.”
The Northwest Environmental Forum focused on “working forests” that include areas actively managed for both forest-based commodities, such as timber, as well as environmental services such as fresh water, wildlife habitat and soil conservation. Working forests in Washington include, for example, 2.1 million acres of Washington Department of Natural Resources forests and roughly 8 million acres of tribal and privately owned forests. The federal government owns 5.6 million acres of working forests in Washington, although harvesting from federal lands declined by 90 percent in the last decade.
Forum participants made more than 35 suggestions toward improving the competitiveness and economic performance of the state’s working forests, which will take:
- Innovation: Suggestions included having the state investigate carbon credit markets and having the UW and Washington State University explore the potential of producing bioenergy from woody biomass.
- Incentives: The state, for example, could make it worthwhile for private forest landowners to let certain stands of trees grow in ways that enhance biodiversity even though doing so means they can’t earn the highest return from those stands.
- Investments by the state: Among the recommendations is to fund the steps outlined in the DNR’s “Washington State Strategic Plan for Health Forests.” See http://www.dnr.wa.gov/htdocs/rp/forhealth/fhswgc/pdf/strategicplan.pdf.