DNR made a commitment in 1997 to restore old growth forests across 10-15% of state forestlands in Western Washington. This commitment is clearly spelled out in the 2006 Policy for Sustainable Forests (PSF), the 1997 Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP), the 1997 Biological Opinion that accompanied the HCP, and DNR’s 2007 procedures for "Identifying and Managing Structurally Complex Forests to Meet Older Forest Targets" (DNR Policy PR 14-004-046).
DNR has completely ignored this commitment. Instead, the agency has been aggressively logging the very forests it needs to protect to meet its old growth targets.
As director of the Center for Responsible Forestry, I filed a lawsuit against DNR in October, 2021, to hold the agency accountable for repeatedly violating its legal commitments to protect and restore structurally complex and old growth forests across Western Washington. The lawsuit alleged that the “About Time” timber sale, located near Oakville, would clearcut structurally complex forests that were necessary to meet DNR’s commitment to restore old growth forests in the South Coast HCP planning unit.
In October of this year (after waiting more than two years) the Division II Appellate Court finally reached a decision… not to decide. Instead, the court found that the case is moot, because all of the trees had been cut down before the case could be heard in court.
The Policy for Sustainable Forests is a legally binding document adopted by the Board of Natural Resources in 2006, and dictates how state lands are to be managed. It requires DNR to develop landscape level management strategies to meet its 10-15% old growth targets during a forest land planning process that will be conducted for each HCP planning unit. DNR’s procedures for “Identifying Structurally Complex Forests to Meet Older Forest Targets” were developed to ensure compliance with the 10-15% older and fully functional forest objectives of the PSF and HCP. PR 14-004-046 lays out a step-by-step plan, which involves identifying existing structurally complex forest stands that will grow into older forests, designating those forests in a mapping database, and protecting them from logging until old growth targets are met in each HCP planning unit. Only after the 10-15% target is met may structurally complex forest stands be considered for harvest activities.
DNR completely ignored these procedures, and never identified, mapped, designated, or protected structurally complex forests as required.
DNR has done everything possible to avoid responsibility for their failure to comply with their own policies and procedures. It has argued that only the agency has the authority to enforce its own policies. It has argued that DNR cannot be held accountable for violating its own policies after they have been approved by the Board of Natural Resources. It has attempted to dodge the issue by claiming that individual timber sales cannot be challenged based on DNR’s general failure to follow its own policies, even if those timber sales collectively cause the policies to be violated. It has even attempted to argue that commitments are not requirements, but “aspirations”.
When the Murphy Plywood Company cut down all of the trees before our most recent case could be heard in court, DNR supported the Murphy Company’s motion to moot the case.
Court cases should be decided by judges, not chainsaws.
On December 7, 2023, the Legacy Forest Defense Coalition appealed the decision by the Board of Natural Resources to approve the "Last Crocker" timber sale. Five other organizations, including the Washington Forest Law Center, Conservation Northwest, Washington Conservation Action, the Center for Responsible Forestry, and the Olympic Forest Coalition, along with Peter Goldmark, former Lands Commissioner and head of DNR, have signed a letter to Hilary Franz urging her to postpone logging operations so that our case can proceed without an injunction. Predictably, Franz has refused, so we are requesting that the court issue an injunction prohibiting the forest from being logged until the case can be decided on its merits.
We are determined to hold DNR accountable for violating its own policies to protect and restore structurally complex and old growth forests in Western Washington. Click here for more information on our current lawsuit against DNR.