Washington state to preserve, reseed two million acres of forest by 2040
Against a backdrop of record setting wildfires during the 2021 season and an unprecedented heat bubble in the Pacific Northwest that killed 100 people in June, the Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is looking to make a substantial investment in the state’s forests, pledging to preserve or restore 2 million acres of trees by 2040.
The action, titled Keeping Washington Evergreen, is intended to develop and preserve infrastructure that will allow the state to hold onto its forests and tree canopy, rural and urban. That includes funding and strategy to avoid deforestation, nursery development, and a number of technological investments to preserve and reseed the state’s forests.
One of the more significant investments will come in the state’s production of hatchery seedlings to support reforestation of burned out areas in the state, as well as urban environments which require more robust tree canopies to offset summer heat waves. DNR reports that 1 million acres of forest have been burned in forest fires since 2015.
“One million acres will require growing and planting 400 million trees,” Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz said in a press conference Nov. 30. “That means from going from producing 8.5 million seedlings every year to 20 million.”
The self-imposed mandate to reseed a million acres of trees by 2040 is significant within the context of climate change and reports that forest management and the reintroduction of forest are among the best ways to mitigate rising temperatures brought on by climate change.
This would represent DNR’s first statewide goal to protect both working and natural forest from conversion, and to replant trees in areas which lack a natural canopy.
The plan is designed to sequester carbon from the atmosphere, filter and cool the region’s drinking water, mitigate environmental risks such as flooding, provide shelter for terrestrial and aquatic species, and purify the air.
The Keeping Washington Evergreen pledge would represent the first time the state has established a mandate to protect its forests in both privately and publicly owned land.
When asked how the state plans to protect privately owned land from development, Franz downplayed the role that state acquisition will play.
“Our goal here isn’t to put a million acres of working forest land into public ownership. … We are seeing increasing pressure on our working forest lands to convert and what we need to do is bring more tools, …and that goes from everything from conservation easements to purchasing whole,” Franz added in the press conference.
The project description lists a number of potential avenues by which the state could conserve privately owned land without outright purchase, although that option is retained. Conservation easement, which refers to limited land use agreements in exchange for compensation, community forest trust lands, acquisition for state trust land, the transfer of development rights, and tax breaks are all mentioned as possible strategies.
The pledge to preserve and reseed 2 million acres of forest follows legislation passed earlier this year, which allocates a biannual $125 million for updated and bolstered DNR forest fire fighting technology and labor. That legislation singled out an additional 1.25 million acres for recovery under DNR’s 20 Year Forest Health Strategic Plan.