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State trust lands

1.7 million acres of forest in Washington are managed as school trust lands "for all the people."

Forests should benefit all the people, not just a few

Summer swimming kids. Photo by Peter FraserAt statehood Washington was granted lands by the federal government to help build public schools, universities, and other institutions. Today, of Washington state's 2.8 million acres of publicly owned trust lands, 1.7 million acres are used to make money for the state's common school construction fund. Forests make up 65 percent of these acres, and logging is the major activity. Example landscapes of concern to Conservation Northwest are forests in the Lake Whatcom watershed and at Blanchard Mountain, both near Bellingham.

The state Department of Natural Resources today manages these public trust lands aggressively, with logging and grazing. But the cost is significant: damage to water, biodiversity, and wildlife habitat, and loss of undeveloped recreation opportunities.

In the late 1800s, at statehood when the trust lands were established, 200,000 people lived in the state and perhaps 80 percent of the the Northwest was covered in old-growth forest. Today, our population has grown to nearly 7 million and we have much less than 10 percent old growth left. Of state lands old growth–our lower elevation, fertile forests–there is even less. Yet in the 21st century, Washington continues to manage its trust lands by 19th century standards.

It's time for a change. Conservation Northwest hopes to reform management of our state trust lands and to put protection of public values–such as clean water and old growth–on an equal footing with revenue generation for trust beneficiaries. A constitutional interpretation of the trust lands supports management that benefits all the people of Washington.

A balanced approach means that some state trust lands are appropriate to log, while others are far too important for other public values. We believe that there are many creative solutions to the state's school funding challenges, and we stand ready to support the beneficiaries in identifying creative funding opportunities.

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