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Informational Resource
DNR & Timber Industry Myths

The DNR regularly repeat misinformation, timber industry spin and outright falsehoods, about their timber sale program. This page is meant to serve as a resource to debunk some of their more common myths.

MYTH: “Half of DNR lands are already protected”
FACT: Only 17% of state forestlands have been permanently protected.

The Department of Natural Resources regularly claims that half of its lands are "encumbered" under its HCP their Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP,) or are otherwise protected and are therefore protected and cannot be logged. This is a gross misrepresentation of the facts. This claim was first presented to the Board of Natural Resources (the governing board that overseas the DNR) by Todd Welker on April 4, 2023. After our organization filed multiple Public Disclosure requests we were able to ascertain the basis for this claim. Based on data we have received from DNR's Public Disclosure Office, only about 17% of state forestlands have been permanently protected for the purpose of conserving wildlife habitat in natural area preserves, natural resource conservation areas and marbled murrelet habitat areas. About half of the 17% of state forestlands that have been permanently protected are younger forest that had been clearcut and replanted with primarily Douglas fir. The DNR justifies their claim of saying that 50% of lands are set aside by counting narrow stream buffers as conservation areas, even though they overestimate the presence of buffers on their land base. They also count all areas stating unstable slopes as conservation areas, even though these areas are routinely logged. To make matters worse, the DNR also counts the surface area of all logging roads, and many parking lots as conservation areas in “long-term deferral” even if those roads are in the middle of clear cuts. DNR also manages thousands of acres for the northern spotted owl, and these areas are counted as conservation areas. The Issue is the DNR regularly exploits a loophole in their habitat conservation plan that allows them to log forests they have classified as "type a and B spotted owl habitat,” meaning that these areas aren't truly protected. In short, when DNR claims that half of their lands are protected what do they really mean is that half of their lines are non-productive, or currently unavailable for harvest. Even if you count all stream buffers as conservation areas, DNR protects less than 35% of their land base in Western Washington, not half. Note that we say "less than 35%" because DNR overestimates the presence of screen buffers on their lands irregularly logs areas that are classified buy their model as repairian zones, meaning any estimates we use based off of their models will be over estimates.

MYTH: “DNR is required to maximize revenue”
FACT: DNR is required to produce revenue, but not maximize revenue.

For the past several decades the Department of Natural Resources has operated under the assumption that they are required to maximize revenue for trust beneficiaries. While it is true that DNR is required to produce revenue for beneficiaries it is not true that they are required to maximize revenue. This was affirmed by a 2022 Washington State Supreme Court decision allowing the DNR to consider multiple factors in the management of state lands including climate change, biodiversity, and recreation. The DNR currently manages their lands on a forest estate model, similar to private timber companies. This model manages the entire land base (outside of areas deliberately set aside,) as a timber plantation, meaning that every forest will eventually be cut down unless it is explicitly protected by the DNR's Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) or removed from trust status. There are multiple ways that the DNR removes lands from trust status, but they generally rely on the legislature to allocate funds to make the trust whole. DNR has recently received money from the Natural Climate Solutions account to protect mature forests by removing them from trust status at a cost of approximately $20,000 an acre. This would be entirely unnecessary if the DNR implemented a mature forest policy and made the decision not to maximize revenue on all trust lands but to balance competing objectives across the trusts.

MYTH: “DNR logs more sustainably than any other landowner”
FACT: While the DNR is better than some landowners, it is far from the most sustainable.

This is a claim that you will hear from almost every public agency and logging company no matter where they are or how unsustainable their practices are. In the case of the DNR, this statement has a degree of truth. The DNR, when compared to private industry in Washington, has much larger stream buffers, much larger habitat reserves, and much more generous leave-tree policies. That being said, the DNR almost always clear cut logs, regularly logs spotted owl habitat, has been known to log globally imperiled ecosystems, and is converting the last natural forests of many lowland watersheds into low biodiversity timber plantations, a process which is known as "forest conversion.” To complicate matters, the DNR manages its lands under two different accreditations, the first accreditation is from the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI), this accreditation is generally boilerplate and all DNR lands are accredited under this certification. The SFI is seen as a relatively weak attempt by the timber industry to self-regulate, and its standards are relatively low. The DNR's South Puget Region is also certified under the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), a much stronger accreditation that means the South Puget Region has significantly better environmental practices than other DNR regions. The FSC accredits both private and public land owners including private logging companies that have similar, and in some cases superior environmental practices to the DNR. When you compare the DNR to other public agencies in Western Washington like the US Forest Service (USFS) the DNR is subpar. The DNR puts a much bigger emphasis on timber production than the USFS. The forest service rarely clear cuts, instead focusing on variable density thinning. Their Late Successional Reserves (LSRs) set aside forests over 80 years in age in many areas, meaning that almost all of their logging is focused on plantation forests, and the majority of their land base is conserved in a system that truly manages for mixed uses. Beyond this, Washington State’s loose forest practices rules allow the DNR to be a leader in sustainability compared to private industry, while simultaneously converting natural forests to plantations, spraying herbicides, and logging spotted owl habitat. California’s forest practices rules are much stricter with a maximum clear cut size of 40 acres on the coast. DNR regularly cuts 100 acres at a time. California's regulations also mandate much more generous stream buffers and greater wildlife tree protections.

MYTH: “DNR's logging is a climate solution”
FACT: The DNR timber sale program emits millions of tons of CO2 every year.

The DNR regularly argues that they are not required to assess the emissions from their individual timber sales because, on the landscape level DNR lands sequester more carbon than they release. While this may be true, DNR lands would have a much greater capacity for carbon storage without a timber sales program focused on clear-cut logging. The DNR's leadership subscribes to the "furniture theory" of carbon sequestration, a timber industry myth that argues that logging mature forests is better for the environment because forest products store carbon. In reality, the vast majority of carbon stored in a mature forest (70%) will be released in the years following logging, as slash piles are burnt and the site decays. On average only 30% of the carbon originally stored in a mature forest will remain sequestered in wood products. Some of this carbon may be stored for decades, and some of it could be stored for a century or more. That being said, most of this CO2 will be emitted relatively quickly compared to an alternate scenario where the carbon had been left in the forest and persisted in the trunks of trees for many hundreds of years. To make matters worse, emissions associated with the logging, hauling, and manufacturing of wood products nullify half of the benefit of the carbon that is stored in wood products. Alternatively, leaving a mature legacy forest standing allows for continued carbon storage and sequestration at an indefinite time scale. Fires in mature forests are typically low intensity and allow the vast majority of forest carbon to remain sequestered in forest soils, and in the large trees which survive most fires. In 2023 the Legacy Forest Defense Coalition joined the Center for Sustainable Economy to appeal the "Wishbone" timber sale on the grounds the DNR had failed to analyze the project's climate impacts. The DNR argues that because their lands sequestered more carbon than they emit, the impact of this individual timber sale would be negligible. We argued that the timber sale would emit substantial amounts of carbon and the DNR should be required to consider this in their environmental analysis. We won, however the DNR is appealing that decision. Based on research conducted by John Talberth at the Center for Sustainable Economy, timber harvests emit an average of 16.74-10.27 tCO2-e/mbf (MBF stands for thousand board feet.) Using these emission factors we can estimate that the timber sales DNR auctioned in fiscal year 2024 will cause between 3.9 and 6.5 million tonnes of CO2 emissions, equivalent to the annual emissions of between 273,000 and 445,000 Americans.

MYTH: “Legacy forests are small and fragmented and have no habitat value”
FACT: DNR is actively fragmenting large blocks of legacy forest, many of which are still relatively intact. 

DNR staff often argue that legacy forests are small, fragmented, and have very little habitat value. This is entirely disingenuous. In comments to the Board of Natural Resources (BNR), staff often claim that these forests are small "15 or 20 acre” patches with no connectivity and no habitat value. Implicit in this statement by the DNR is the assumption that if in fact, there were large sections of these mature forests, the DNR would have already protected them. This couldn’t be further from the truth. DNR regularly targets legacy forests that are hundreds of acres in size for commercial logging, some legacy forests like those found on Tiger Mountain, in Gaddis Creek, the Sionxon, the North River headwaters, Mount Sutherland, Blanchard Mountain, and dozens of other areas are over 1000 acres in size and are mostly or entirely unprotected. The DNR likes to rationalize the continued destruction of an area by saying “the area is already fragmented” without acknowledging that their own bad practices are the reason that their lands have been fragmented. To make matters worse, staff will often say that small legacy forests have no habitat value, while simultaneously arguing that narrow stream buffers which are often just 200 feet wide should be counted as "fully functional habitat.” We are advocating for the conservation of all remaining legacy forests on state lands, whether they are 15 acres in size or 1500 acres in size, and we believe that the appropriate response to a fragmented landscape is the restoration of connective zones between small stands of forests, rather than the destruction of the remaining stands.

MYTH: “If we don't log legacy forests we will put people out of work”
FACT: The DNR has thousands of acres of plantations that they could be logging instead of legacy forests.

This is one of the most common arguments you will hear from the DNR and the timber Industry. The jobs versus environment narrative simply isn't true, but is a convenient narrative that allows large timber companies (and public agencies) to scapegoat environmentalists for their own bad policies. Much of the DNR’s timber inventory is located in low ecological value plantation forests. The DNR is choosing to deliberately target the oldest, most biodiverse, and structurally complex forests for commercial harvest. This decision was made deliberately by DNR leadership and has never been the agency's only option. The DNR is fully capable of planning timber sales in its very substantial inventory of plantation forests, rather than in mature forests which are often over 100 years old. The agency has enough standing timber on its land base in these plantation forests to create a smooth transition away from the logging of the state's last remaining legacy forests. If the DNR undertakes a well-thought-out transition towards a lower overall harvest level with a greater emphasis on selective logging, the DNR could mitigate any job losses resulting from a lower overall harvest volume by creating more labor-intensive and ecologically friendly timber harvests. Historic job losses in Washington State's timber industry have been driven by increased mechanization, corporatization, and globalization. A major fraction of logs from private timberlands in Washington State are exported to overseas markets, a dynamic that quite literally ships jobs overseas for corporate gain. If the legislature were to enact a ban on raw log exports as part of the transition towards more ecological forestry on private lands across the state, it would result in the creation of thousands of jobs, and would dramatically reduce regional mills' reliance on DNR timber sales. Increasingly mechanized logging has resulted in a greater emphasis on even-aged timber harvest which employs few people compared to more selective logging. Selective logging requires more workers to be employed for the same amount of volume, which tends to be better for workers but less profitable for mill owners.

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