WA suspends sale of timber from Nooksack Watershed Oldest Forest

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Much of the Upper Rutsatz Timber Sale forest in Whatcom County originated around 1890. The Washington Department of Natural Resources suspended logging plans on Friday, Jan. 28, until the agency can revise its policy on old-growth forests.

Much of the Upper Rutsatz Timber Sale forest in Whatcom County originated around 1890. The Washington Department of Natural Resources suspended logging plans on Friday, Jan. 28, until the agency can revise its policy on old-growth forests.

Courtesy of the Bellingham Herald

Planned logging of a more than 100-year-old forest near Middle Fork of the Nooksack River has been halted, according to a Friday, Jan. 28, email from the state Department of Natural Resources to community members who had contacted the agency about the sale.

The sale of nearly 89 acres of “Upper Rutsatz” timber will not go ahead at this time as the DNR reevaluates its policies regarding older forests, wrote Angus Brodie, the agency’s deputy supervisor for state highlands.

The forest near Deming is on state trust land, managed by the DNR to generate revenue for state schools, state universities, construction on the capital Olympia campus, and prisons. The timber sale was to be auctioned in April 2022, according to a environmental review prepared by MNR in May 2021.

The DNR’s decision follows a wave of public concern over planned logging and a 2021 directive from Public Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz to suspend sales of timber containing pre-1900 forest. is in effect until the DNR completes its review of how it defines old-growth forest. The sale will then be assessed under the new criteria, according to Brodie’s email.

Ancient forests provide important biodiversity and climate benefits, storing more carbon warming the planet than younger trees. Forests of this status are rare in the world today. The current MNR definition of old-growth forest, adopted in 2006, requires a forest to have originated before 1850, be structurally complex, and span at least 5 contiguous acres.

The majority of the forest in the Upper Rutsatz sale originated around 1890, according to the May 2021 environmental review of the sale. Despite its age, the timber sale does not include 5 contiguous acres of older, structurally complex forest, according to Brodie’s Jan. 28 email.

But this technicality did not prevent the sale from attracting negative reactions in the Whatcom community.

More than 1,000 people signed a petition from the Center for Responsible Forestry asking the DNR to cancel the sale, according to Brel Froebe, a Bellingham resident and communications coordinator for the nonprofit.

“Upper Rutsatz has gone through all the hoops and regulatory studies, and probably would have been approved had it not been for the massive public outcry,” Froebe wrote in an email to the Bellingham Herald.

Further reduce forest cover in the Nooksack River Basin risk of irreversible changes and ecosystem collapseWestern Washington University ecologist John McLaughlin told the Bellingham Herald for another story.

The initial timber sale proposal would have allowed the logging of approximately 250 acres, but this figure was reduced to approximately 89 for numerous water quality and habitat reasons. Reasons include nearby eagle habitat, sensitive slopes above public resources and the sale’s location near important salmon and trout waterways, according to the 2021 environmental review. of the MNR.

The DNR is examining whether the forest from the Upper Rutsatz wood sale could generate income without being felled. Alternatives include carbon markets or the Trust Land Transfer program, Brodie said in the Jan. 28 email.

Carbon markets could allow the state to reap the climate benefits of leaving the forest intact. Organizations and individuals would pay for “carbon credits” generated by greenhouse gases that warm the planet and are absorbed by the forest.

The Land Trust Transfer Program allows the state to protect trust lands considered to have special properties of public utility. Rather than using timber harvest profits to build schools, legislative funds are dedicated to this purpose.

This story was originally published January 28, 2022 1:54 p.m.

Ysabelle Kempe joined the Bellingham Herald in the summer of 2021 to cover environmental affairs. She graduated from Northeastern University in Boston and worked for the Boston Globe and Grist.

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