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3rd February 2022
State pauses logging of this 130-year-old forest near Nooksack River in Whatcom County


Planned logging of a more than century-old forest near the Nooksack River’s Middle Fork has been paused, according to a Friday, Jan. 28, email the state Department of Natural Resources sent to community members who had contacted the agency regarding the sale.

The nearly 89-acre “Upper Rutsatz” timber sale will not move ahead at this time as the DNR reevaluates its policies regarding older forests, wrote Angus Brodie, the agency’s deputy supervisor for state uplands. The forest near

Deming is on state trust lands, managed by the DNR to bring in revenue for public schools, state universities, construction on the Olympia capitol campus and prisons. The timber sale was scheduled for auction in April 2022, according to an environmental review prepared by the DNR in May 2021.

The DNR’s decision follows an outpouring of public concern about the planned logging and a 2021 directive from Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz to pause timber sales containing forests that originated before 1900. This pause is effective until the DNR completes its review of how it defines old-growth forest. The sale will then be evaluated under the new criteria, according to Brodie’s email.

Old-growth forests provide significant biodiversity and climate benefits, storing more planet-warming carbon than younger trees. Forests of this status are rare in today’s world. The DNR’s current definition of old-growth, adopted in 2006, requires that a forest originated prior to 1850, is structurally complex and spans at least 5 contiguous acres.

The majority of the forest in the Upper Rutsatz sale originated around 1890, according to the May 2021 environmental review of the sale.

Despite its age, the timber sale does not have 5 contiguous acres of older, structurally complex forest, according to Brodie’s Jan. 28 email.

But this technicality didn’t stop the sale from sparking backlash in the Whatcom community.

Over 1,000 people signed a petition from the Center for Responsible Forestry asking the DNR to cancel the sale, according to Brel Froebe, a Bellingham resident and communications coordinator for the nonprofit.

“Upper Rutsatz has gone through all the regulatory hoops and studies, and would likely have been approved if it wasn’t for a massive public outcry,” Froebe wrote in an email to The Bellingham Herald.

Reducing forest cover any further in the Nooksack River basin risks irreversible changes and ecosystem collapse, Western Washington University ecologist John McLaughlin told The Bellingham Herald for another story.

The original proposal for the timber sale would have allowed for the logging of about 250 acres, but that figure was reduced to about 89 for numerous reasons relating to water quality and habitat reasons. Reasons include nearby eagle habitat, sensitive slopes above public resources and the sale’s location near streams important to salmon and trout, according to the DNR’s 2021 environmental review.

The DNR is examining whether the forest in the Upper Rutsatz timber sale could bring in revenue without being cut down. Alternatives include carbon markets or the Trust Land Transfer program, Brodie said in the Jan. 28 email.

Carbon markets could allow the state to profit off of the climate benefits of leaving the forest intact.
Organizations and individuals would pay for the “carbon credits” generated by the planet-warming greenhouse gases absorbed by the forest.

The Trust Land Transfer Program allows the state to protect trust lands deemed as having special properties for public benefit. Rather than using timber harvest profit for school construction, legislative funds are dedicated to the purpose.