Support both our older forests and our timber economy

Kaylee Galloway, Whatcom County Council – Bellingham Herald, 4/12/23

Whether you are traversing trails surrounded by old growth trees or cheering in the stands of the Deming Logging Show, forests have long been at the core of our Whatcom County culture and economy.

In recent months, residents across Whatcom County have turned to their state and local
government officials to weigh in on how our public forest lands are currently managed – and whether or not we are long overdue for change. Some calling for protection of legacy forests and others standing firm on the commitment to harvest. Call me an optimist, but I believe we can do both.

Now more than ever, we must view forest management as both an economic driver as well as a natural climate solution. So, the question is, can we really have it all? In Whatcom County, we should be committed to finding balanced solutions that include protecting our most ecologically valuable forest lands, incorporating climate-smart forest management practices, and expanding our harvestable land base.

As the State legislative session begins to wrap up, including final budget negotiations, one
proposed investment holds promise in being a win/win solution for counties and for climate. The roughly $80 million in the Senate operating budget reflects a coming together to manage public lands with a commitment to climate resilience while also meeting the State’s obligations to beneficiaries such as local governments, school districts and libraries. The proposal calls for conserving the most biodiverse, carbon dense, structurally complex, older forests, while providing funding for beneficiaries, promoting commercial thinning, and acquiring additional forest lands. I urge our legislators in the House to support this solution as it is one of our best paths to addressing climate change while also protecting valuable older forests and adding more working forests to the state land base.

There are roughly 77,000 acres of unprotected older forests owned by the state, and nearly all are being considered for harvest. These are large, complex, and diverse forests that were first logged about a hundred years ago, but then naturally grew back. In Whatcom County, we are familiar with these forests because several have been proposed for logging – recent examples include Box of Rain and Brokedown Palace on the steep slopes above the Middle Fork and Bessie in the Lake Whatcom Watershed. After public uproar, the Washington Department of Natural Resources has proposed to set aside a number of parcels through their pilot carbon project.

Forests are key to our mitigation and adaptation to climate change. We know the impacts of climate change are real and devastating – whether its unprecedented heat waves or drought damaging our crops, smoke from wildfires harming our health, or increased flooding ravaging through our communities. Natural climate solutions — such as protecting key mature forests and advancing climate-smart forest management practices — can enhance our watersheds, increase carbon sequestration and build community resilience. Mature forests sequester and store more carbon each year in the trees and in their soils compared to younger forests and they help protect water quality and quantity. More sustainable forest management practices allow us to manage for multiple benefits such as enhancing ecosystem services and reducing risk of wildfire.

Here at home and across the state, Whatcom County government has an opportunity to step up and take a leadership role. We must come together to help facilitate dialogue among forestry partners, conservation groups, tribes, government agencies, and other beneficiaries to determine how we collectively envision a future for our region that includes both forest protection and a thriving timber economy. There you have it, we can have it all.

Pacific Northwest forest

Kaylee Galloway represents south Bellingham in District 1 on the Whatcom County Council and chairs the Climate Action and Natural Resources Committee.

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