Point of View on Legacy Forests and Carbon Credits

Our rural Olympic Peninsula communities are at risk—this time from efforts to set aside “legacy forests” and convert state-managed working forests into “carbon reserves.” There will be little, if any, benefit to the environment, and will hurt our economy, reduce funding to public services, and impact local school districts to improve their facilities for our students.

These public working forests, known as state trust lands, are required by Washington’s constitution to be managed for sustainable harvests. Revenues are shared between the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and defined beneficiaries including school districts, hospitals, fire districts, libraries, ports, and roads. They provide family-wage jobs and encourage businesses that grow, harvest, transport and process wood products. State law also requires that timber harvested on public lands cannot be exported and must be marketed domestically.

The proponents’ definition of “legacy forests” frequently shifts. But these state-managed working forests are not pristine old-growth forests. They are working forests harvested within the last 100 years. These forests are already managed under some of the strictest environmental regulations in the nation and in the world. Proponents claim these previously harvested public lands should be placed off-limits as “old growth,” even though DNR has already set aside all old-growth on state trust lands, based on the input of scientific experts.

More than 30 years ago much of the federal land on the Olympic Peninsula was set aside for the Northern Spotted Owl with the promise that the remaining land would be actively managed to support our communities. That promise was broken. In recent years, half of the DNR state trust lands in Western Washington have been set aside for endangered species and other purposes, with the promise the remaining land would be actively managed to support our communities. That promise is being broken too.

At its core is a thinly veiled attempt to stop timber harvesting on the Peninsula’s public lands, even though well over one million acres of public forest land is already set aside.

Despite claims that carbon leases will replace lost timber revenues, the market for voluntary carbon offsets is currently only ten percent of what beneficiaries would receive from timber sales. DNR is betting on a highly speculative market at the expense of jobs, education and public services in rural communities. Carbon credits will not decrease pollution, but rather allow entities to pay for polluting. Placing credits into DNR “carbon reserves,” will only benefit Seattle and other urban areas because they’ll allow industries to continue emitting greenhouse gases through buying and selling carbon offsets.

Legacy forests and carbon reserves will reduce the Olympic Peninsula’s timber industry, while further enlarging society’s carbon footprint when we have to import more wood products from other countries with less stringent environmental regulations. It ignores the fact that rural communities are already doing their part to store and sequester carbon. Building with wood grown and harvested on the Olympic Peninsula supports a green sector that provides sustainably-produced, renewable materials that retain carbon through the wood product’s lifespan.

The best solution for mitigating climate change and supporting our rural communities? Protect working forests. So-called legacy forests and carbon reserves will not only cost jobs and reduce revenue for public schools and services, they will reverse gains already made in reducing carbon emissions.

Connie Beauvais,

District 3 Commissioner

Port of Port Angeles