After the Rally – A Future Forests Campaign Update

Bellingham’s forest rally marks the new “high water mark” of growing movement to protect mature forests. | September 11, 2023

An update from RE Sources Land and Water Policy Manager Alexander Harris.

On August 22, over 300 people mobilized in downtown Bellingham to demonstrate their support for protecting mature forests on public land while they’re still here. Gathered at Maritime Heritage Park, where Whatcom Creek runs into Bellingham Bay, rally attendees heard from three County Councilmembers—Kaylee Galloway (Whatcom County), Dave Upthegrove (King County), and Megan Dunn (Snohomish County). We also heard from Lummi master carver Jewell James and other Indigenous leaders about the importance of protecting old forests to restore salmon runs and adapt to climate change.

Perhaps the most memorable part of the rally was the artistic expression that complimented the main messages of the day. We heard several musical performances and two poetry readings—all while circus performers dressed as mushrooms, forest fairies, and ents roamed the crowd. The rally was co-organized by RE Sources and the Center for Responsible Forestry—and it was only possible with the help of dozens of volunteers who phone banked, made signs and art, and helped with logistics. In all, it was a great event, marking a new high point for this burgeoning forest movement.

The rally coincided with the Board of Natural Resources (BNR)—the governing body of the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), coming to Whatcom County on August 22-23 for their annual retreat. BNR has the power to end mature forest logging immediately, if they so choose. Earlier in the day of the rally, I was able to attend the BNR’s tour around the Mount Baker Foothills where board members interfaced with DNR staff and members of the public about how DNR manages recreation on state lands. Inevitably, forest management came up throughout the day, and I was able to have positive conversations with several board members and DNR staff. Notably, Public Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz did not attend the tour.

At various points along the tour, we had activists with signs, banners, and costumes “bird dogging” BNR members—asking the board to protect mature forests now. Based on the conversations I had that day, it was clear that BNR members and DNR staff were feeling the pressure from this statewide campaign!

Cascadia Daily New’s coverage of the August 22nd Rally to Protect Mature Forests

So what’s next in our campaign to permanently protect mature, naturally-regenerated forests in the Mount Baker Foothills?

In the coming months, we’re focused on three policy priorities:

1. Defend the wins we’ve already secured

Over the past 18 months, we’ve been able to pause two timber sales with mature forests in Whatcom County through DNR’s pilot Carbon Project. The first of these was the Bessie Timber Sale, located in the Lake Whatcom watershed. Back in 2021, RE Sources joined partner groups to mobilize thousands of comments into DNR, as well as a letter from Whatcom County Council—all asking to pause the sale. 

Then in April 2022, DNR announced their new Carbon Project, which included protections of the mature stands within the Bessie Timber Sale (read more here). Phase I of the Carbon Project also included protections for over 1,000 acres of forestland within the Lake Whatcom watershed, which is very much needed given that this watershed provides drinking water for over 100,000 people. Later, the Upper Rutsatz Timber Sale—which contains old-growth remnants and dozens of trees of 4 feet in diameter—was included as a candidate in Phase II of the Carbon Project.

We applaud DNR for taking this approach to forest management, which allows them to generate revenue through carbon offsets instead of needing to clearcut in order to provide revenue to beneficiaries. This expands DNR’s management tool belt and increases their ability to manage for numerous purposes. Naturally, the Timber Industry is fighting tooth and nail to strike down this approach through litigation and lobbying efforts, which makes the future of the Carbon Project uncertain. We’ll continue to watchdog this process to ensure these mature stands are allowed to grow into old-growth forests in the decades ahead.

2. Ensure DNR implements the Climate Commitment Act program to conserve mature forests

During the state legislative session earlier this year, RE Sources worked with partner groups to secure $83M to protect 2,000 acres of mature, structurally-complex forest. The funds were derived from the state’s new cap and invest program—known as the Climate Commitment (CCA)—as a way to leverage natural climate solutions to lower carbon emissions. We’re working hard to identify which parcels should be included in this new program using GIS-mapping processes, on-the-ground forest surveys, and direct conversations with DNR staff. 

Our top priority in this process is to see DNR conserve the mature stands within the Brokedown Palace Timber Sale, located along the steep cliffs above the Middle Fork Nooksack River. The goal is to protect this mature forest (and others like it) from logging, then use the CCA funds to purchase new timberlands to ensure that trust beneficiaries are made whole going forward. Stay tuned for updates on this effort.

3. Promote County leadership in DNR forest management

Whatcom County Council has actively engaged with DNR over the past few years, asking for a better process by which local electeds can engage with DNR on the management of state lands. Over a third of all the DNR land in Whatcom County is managed on behalf of the Whatcom County government—meaning revenue generated from timber sales on those lands goes to the county and its junior taxing districts. Despite this arrangement, DNR doesn’t currently consult with the county regarding how county trustlands should be managed.

Then in June 2023, Commissioner Hilary Franz sent a letter to several counties in western WA (including Whatcom) saying that DNR is open to the counties playing a more active role in forest management planning on county trustlands. This is a big deal because it would allow Whatcom County to work directly with DNR in deciding how timber production should be balanced with the numerous other benefits that forests can provide when managed properly—such as clean water, abundant wildlife habitat, recreational opportunities, and long term carbon storage. Stay tuned on opportunities to engage with Whatcom County as they embark on this co-management opportunity with DNR.

We need to keep the pressure up!

In order to be successful, we need to build upon the energy of our August 22 rally and continue to hold DNR accountable for logging mature forests. Here are some ways you can get more involved:

  • Make sure you’re on our email list in order to receive future updates
  • Join us on a hike! (Blanchard Mountain Hike on September 29—details HERE)
  • Help survey mature forests that are slated to be logged in the coming years.
  • Come to our events (educational forum to come in October—stay tuned)
  • Be sure to follow us on social media:

Reach out if you’d like to learn more about this work:

For the forests,

Alexander Harris
RE Sources Land & Water Policy Manager