The 2023 Washington Legislative Session is well underway and there are some interesting bills related to state forest management and climate change that are working through the system. We’ve been watching several of these bills, but we wanted to highlight three in particular, each of which could potentially make a major impact on land management and climate change policies in our state.
Trust Lands Transfer Program (SHB 1460)
Washington’s working forest lands are held in a trust that provides the state with revenue through timber sales. The Trust Lands Transfer program is an important tool that allows the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to transfer lands from this trust into a different category of public ownership, like a natural reserve. The tool is meant to transition high quality ecosystems and/or areas of relatively low timber value out of the trust and into protected reserves and to replace this acreage with other more profitable working lands.
In the past this program has lacked transparency and been inconsistently applied. The bills introduced this legislative session address these problems and allow individuals and groups outside of DNR to nominate lands to be considered for transfer. We feel this is an important change for the program.
We are excited to see that this bill passed the House and are hopeful it will pass the Senate soon. You can join us in voicing support by clicking here and commenting in support of the bill.
Updating the Integrated Climate Strategy (E2SHB 1170)
The state has a ten-year old integrated climate response strategy that is in need of updating. These bills would update the strategy and broaden its reach to include more agencies. There are several important requirements for the updated strategy that we are particularly excited about.
First, the bill will require agencies to identify “key gaps to advancing climate resilience actions.” As we all know, it’s difficult to address problems unless those problems have been identified. Second, it includes language to protect marginalized communities whose members too frequently bear an outsized burden of climate change consequences. Finally, the bill prioritizes “actions that deploy natural solutions, restore habitat, or reduce stressors that exacerbate climate change.” We feel these types of actions are necessary for climate resilience and are pleased to see them included as a guiding principle of the strategy.
We are very supportive of this bill. It has just passed the House, and we are hopeful it will soon pass in the Senate. You can join us in supporting this bill by clicking here and commenting in support of the bill.
DNR Carbon Offsets (SB 5688, HB 1789)
There are two bills this legislative session which would allow the DNR to address its financial obligation to working forest lands trust beneficiaries, like timber revenue-dependent counties, by selling carbon offsets. Selling carbon offsets to combat climate change is a much-debated topic among environmentalists. While this likely sounds like a great idea, the issues raised by these bills are complex and nuanced. Currently both the house and senate bills appear to allow for dual income sources. For example, it appears the proposed legislation could allow the DNR to sell carbon credits while simultaneously allowing activities like some logging on a particular piece of land. This raises some questions about whether the new program will be used like traditional carbon credit sales where the forest in consideration is left alone for a significant amount of time.
The house version of the bill appears to not allow DNR to decrease timber production despite the selling of carbon offsets, and in fact seems to require an increase in timber production over time. Additionally, the house version of the bill prevents DNR from setting aside areas of timber lands as carbon offsets where no other management is performed unless the beneficiaries of the trust, usually counties, approve it. These terms are problematic and undermine one of the major benefits of the proposed program, undisturbed forests protected carbon offsets. Currently, the senate version of the bill does not include this problematic language and seems more in line with what we would expect and hope to see.
As of this writing, neither version has passed either chamber. We’re still watching to see what will happen with both carbon offset bills and whether substantial amendments will be made. We are more supportive of the current senate bill, but still have reservations given the complexity of the issue.
Overall, we’re excited to see the state legislature spending time considering the important issues of state forest management and climate change. Washington’s forests are one of the most important carbon sinks in the world and the decisions we make today will have enormous consequences for the future. Whether those consequences are good or bad depends on what we do now. We are hopeful that the Trust Lands Transfer program and the Integrated Climate Strategy bills are under consideration and make it to Governor Inlees’ desk. Please help get them over the finish line by voicing your support for the Trust Lands Transfer Program here and the Climate Response Strategy here.