Dozens Gather Outside DNR Office to Protest 'Unjust Practices' in Timber Harvesting


Several groups in Thurston County have been rallying for months against the Department of Natural Resources' plans for timber harvesting in the Puget Sound region.

Among them is JC Davis, whose home and neighbors sit just below a proposed cut near Summit Lake, who fear the damage the tree harvests could do to the environment.

On Tuesday, about 30 people stood outside the DNR's office at the Capitol Campus in Olympia to protest at the DNR board's morning meeting. On top of being angry about recent and upcoming cuts in Thurston County, the group was protesting a settlement agreement involving timber lobbyists, as well as the start of the next 10-year sustainable harvest calculation.

Davis said it was time to bring groups together in person, though writing to the board in opposition has resulted in cuts being slowed down already.

"We're on the track to make change," he said. "These moments where we come together like this, it's so much more powerful than just our pens."

Davis and several other Summit Lake residents were at the protest in hopes of saving the lake's watershed from what they fear will be landslides, pollutants and more from a proposed 16-acre cut. The Thurston County Board of Commissioners recently wrote the DNR board opposing the cut, resulting in the sale being delayed.

Davis said the board seems to be listening to their pleas, but at the same time as the initial cut was delayed, he said a permit was authorized for another cut on the opposite end of Summit Lake.

Others were there Tuesday to protest a cut that Charlotte Persons said came out of nowhere on June 27. About 20 acres of trees were cut down at Cooper Point Road and 20th Avenue Northwest, just east of Cooper Crest Open Space, a heavily forested park within a watershed.

Persons said she and other residents organized a small rally against the cut the day after it happened. She said the DNR can give out permits for property owners to cut down timber while avoiding environmental work and concerns from the local jurisdictions.

Persons said for this specific cut, the city of Olympia had already conducted environmental reports and studies on the land, which she contends the DNR could ignore as a state agency.

Persons and organizer Brel Froebe, a volunteer with the Center for Responsible Forestry, hope to pressure legislators to change what they call the unjust practices surrounding permit authorization, how much of a part timber lobbyists can play, and what trees are saved by the DNR.

Froebe said the DNR's current policy for protecting mature forests includes stands on state lands that are from 1850 or older. But he said there's virtually none that old left.

According to a May 2021 DNR presentation, the DNR defines old growth as forests with late succession complex structure. Older forests are defined as showing structures associated with mature forests. Neither includes a specific age for trees.

There are 2.39 million acres of old growth forests in Western Washington and 1.82 million acres of older forests. The DNR owns approximately 193,000 acres of old growth in the region, 221,000 acres of older forests and 1.543 million acres in total. Most of Western Washington's 13.3 million forested acres are privately or federally owned.

New policies moving forward

Froebe wants the DNR to set a policy for trees that started growing in 1945 or before. He said these trees were the last to be cut down during the industrial logging era and were left to regenerate on their own. Left alone, they could start showing old growth forest characteristics.

"We want to see an older forest policy that protects these forests that are almost gone but are our only chance of regaining any sort of semblance of old growth habitat on state lands," he said.

Froebe said there are only 80,000 acres of pre-1945 forest on DNR-managed land, which makes up about 5% of their land in Western Washington. He said it's not a lot, but it would be a significant amount to have protected.

He said of the 15 timber sales slated on the board's agenda, eight contain pre-1945 forests. Last month it was seven of 10 sales.

"It appears the DNR is liquidating legacy forests as fast as they can," Froebe said. "This is also in context of Commissioner (of Public Lands Hilary) Franz recently lifting the moratorium on logging pre-1900 forests, which is deeply disturbing."

Froebe is hoping the board will keep in mind pre-1945 forests in its next Sustainable Harvest Calculation, which is the process of determining how much timber they're going to harvest in the next decade. The process includes creating an Environmental Impact Statement, and the groups protesting Tuesday want to see climate change specifically analyzed in each scenario or alternative studied for every harvest.

The DNR board was also set to approve settlements for two lawsuits brought on by the American Forest Resource Council, which is a major timber lobbyist, as well as several counties, school districts and other agencies against the DNR's previous Sustainable Harvest Calculation set in 2015.

Froebe said the agenda item was tabled for the day after the board received letters of concern. But if the board agreed to the settlement, Froebe contends it could have amounted to giving the AFRC co-management of DNR land and a say in the State Environmental Protection Act's process, as well as veto powers in deciding elements of timber harvests.

He said there's currently a lawsuit in the State Supreme Court against the DNR, contending it is constitutionally required to serve all the people of Washington and not just those who benefit directly from timber sales' revenue. He said the case could negate the need for the settlement agreement.

Lynn Fitz-Hugh, a resident of Thurston County, said the forests in Western Washington perform wonders on a daily basis. She said the trees in the Pacific Northwest equal the Amazon in terms of their ability to store carbon and that the largest 1 or 2% of the trees here do 50% of the work.

"They're pulling down CO2 and turning it into oxygen for us," she said. "They're managing stormwater, sequestering pollutants. It's an outrage the DNR is pulling back on protection of older trees."

Fitz-Hugh quoted a line from Dr. Seuss' "The Lorax," saying, "I am the Lorax. I speak for the trees. I speak for the trees for the trees have no tongues."

"So it's up to all of us," she said. "We will have to be the ones to speak for the trees."