Rural Democrats make a case for balanced natural resources policies


A proposal by two former public officials to end timber harvests on state trust lands managed by the Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has drawn swift criticism from a current lawmaker, former Democratic state legislator and others.

State Sen. Kevin Van De Wege (D-24th) and former State Rep. Brian Blake (D-19th) both penned op-eds in different print publications criticizing the plan as flawed and falling short of addressing forest health concerns. Both also noted that the ill-conceived scheme neglects to consider recognize the critical role sustainable forest management in helping to reduce the severity of wildfires.

Wrote Sen. Van De Wege in the Sequim Gazette:

“This strategy would surrender vast areas of forest to wildfires. We’ve witnessed the futility of such policy at the federal level for 30 years in national forests across the West…We don’t want to repeat that strategy here, setting aside lands only to see a massive wildfire erase all gains from our sequestration efforts. The only proven way to capture carbon without fire risk is to responsibly harvest timber on a sensible schedule.”

In his opinion piece published in the Seattle Times, Blake underscored that it is critical that Olympia lawmakers enact “reasoned and evenhanded approaches to state policies that consider both rural and urban communities.”

He went on to write that many rural Washington voters who might otherwise vote Democratic have shifted their votes toward right-leaning candidates because there is a growing perception “that most Olympia policymakers who represent urban areas have little regard for how state decisions impact the less populated communities.”

Wrote Blake:

“Strengthening traditional natural resource economies is a virtue, not a vice. And natural resource jobs in the modern forestry sector are part of our future and one part of the climate change solution.”

Like other natural resources-based industries, the forestry sector represents a significant source of family-wage jobs and economic opportunity in many rural communities. In addition, money generated from state trust lands harvest help fun local school construction and other local programs.

Public Lands Commissioner Hillary Franz also has gone on record to say that she does not support the plan and that it would be harmful to wildfire prevention efforts and negatively impact local economies. Elaborating further on Franz’ stance, DNR spokesman Kenny Ocker stated, “eliminated forestry on state lands would force the state to import more timber…which would carry a greater carbon footprint.”

Said Blake:

“The reality is we need wood, and Washington state has arguably some of the most rigorous sustainable forestry standards in the world. The alternative would be to import wood from elsewhere, possibly parts of the world that adhere to lower environmental standards and harvest in a far less sustainable manner.”