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Seattle Times: "Protecting Washington's high-value forest and agriculture lands"

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February 16, 2010 -- Every year, thousands of acres of high-value forest and agricultural lands in Washington are lost through conversion to commercial development, residential sprawl and other uses. The Washington State Department of Natural Resources and the Cascade Land Conservancy are working together to slow or reverse this trend.

http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/opinion/2011060263_guest16goldmark.html

By Peter Goldmark and Gene Duvernoy

Special to The Times

WITH Puget Sound, lush forests near urban areas and an innovative economy, Washington state is a highly desirable place to live. According to the state Office of Financial Management, the state's population has grown by an estimated 13 percent since 2000, the majority representing people moving to our state.

While growth can bring many benefits to a slow economy, it also brings costs. Every year, thousands of acres of high-value forest and agricultural lands in Washington are lost through conversion to commercial development, residential sprawl and other uses. As a consequence, local jobs and long-term revenues for schools are lost, the rural economy is reduced, wildlife habitat is destroyed, natural controls for water quality and flooding are harmed and public access to traditional outdoor recreation areas is diminished.

The Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the Cascade Land Conservancy are working together to slow or reverse this trend. One of the best ways to attack the growing conversion of land is a simple one: Keep working land working. Keep the economic value in growing forests or farming. Give landowners an alternative to development. Our organizations each work toward this shared belief: The Conservancy has helped conserve more than 155,000 acres in the state; DNR has halted the conversion of thousands of acres of forests through land trades and acquisitions.

Our organizations also share the same core viewpoint—we can achieve more by working together than separately. Because of this, the Conservancy has joined with many other individuals and groups to form the Cascade Agenda Coalition. This Coalition has worked to provide private, market-based tools to help conserve land that can be used in conjunction with the existing set of regulations and the ongoing work of the DNR.

At the federal level we are working to support the current bipartisan proposal before Congress to create Community Forestry Bonds. The bonds represent a new financial tool that conserves working forests while providing jobs and respecting landowner property rights.

In the central Puget Sound region, where the tension between growth and natural and working lands is amplified, we must support policies that direct growth away from our working farms and forests and invest in local communities that play a leadership role in absorbing that growth.

DNR plays a key role as well. The department is a steward of about 2 million acres of forests in the state and provides regulatory oversight of 10 million more acres. We all know that healthy forests are a key component in efforts to address global climate change. What could be better for our climate than trees that cleanse the very air we breathe and the water we drink?

DNR and Cascade Land Conservancy. Public and private. Government and nongovernment. Both of our organizations are working to change the way this region grows, to manage that growth for the benefit of all. But we must act now to conserve land and we do that best by keeping land working for habitat, for ecology, for landowners, for jobs, and for the character that makes Washington the place we all live and love.

Commissioner of Public Lands Peter Goldmark leads the Washington State Department of Natural Resources. Gene Duvernoy is president of the Cascade Land Conservancy.