Short-term future of Quilcene forest decided

By Jon Karpilow
Posted 1/31/24


An important case for protecting legacy forests in Jefferson County came before the Superior Court on Jan. 19.

 Two sets of lawyers, one representing Washington’s …

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Short-term future of Quilcene forest decided



An important case for protecting legacy forests in Jefferson County came before the Superior Court on Jan. 19.

 Two sets of lawyers, one representing Washington’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR), and the second speaking on behalf of The Legacy Forest Defense Coalition (LFDC), squared off to determine the short-term fate of 76 acres of distinctive forest land in the Andrew’s Creek watershed in Quilcene.

The arguments made by both sides of the issue were complex and, at times, contentious.

 DNR wants to log the property, referred to as the “Last Crocker” timber sale. They claim to have contracts for the trees to be harvested and asserted they have a buyer for the logs. Furthermore, DNR argued that of the three million acres of forest land under their control, 1.5 million have already been designated as protected, and that the Crocker property falls outside the boundaries of protected lands.

 In the courtroom, it was clear that DNR’s justification for clearcutting the property did not sit well with roughly two dozen citizens who occupied the gallery. When DNR lawyers claimed that forest lands “are (there) to be logged” and asserted that there is “no proof that logging this stand will cause any harm,” multiple members of the audience shook their heads in disagreement.

 The LFDC countered these positions. According to the Defense Coalition lawyers Wyatt Golding and Peter Goldman, DNR’s assertion that half of all forest lands are protected is untrue. According to the Coalition, that number is closer to 17 percent. The majority of those lands are not mature, structurally complex plots like the Crocker property, but younger plots that were recently clearcut, often sprayed with herbicides, and then replanted with nursery-grown Douglas fir trees.

 Representatives from the coalition went on to argue that the DNR failed to live up to its own policies. According to the Coalition, the state is obligated to work toward maintaining or restoring fully functional or old growth-like forests across 10-15 percent of the lands by 2090.

 To achieve this goal, the DNR developed land management strategies that include identifying existing structurally complex forest stands, creating a database to track such properties, and protecting such plots until the preservation goal is achieved.

 The Coalition claimed that the DNR commitment to these steps has fallen far short. According to the LFDC, no survey has been performed, no database has been developed, and no effort has been made to protect current structurally-complex forest land.

 Moreover, data obtained from DNR’s own Public Disclosure Office suggests that structurally complex forests represent only five percent of land that has been set aside — a number that falls short of the plan’s commitment to preserve up to 15 percent of the forests under its management.

 If DNR is allowed to harvest the Last Crocker plot, using a “cut it now, grow it later” philosophy, the LFDC legal team estimated it will take more than 70 years to return that property to the structurally complex status that exists today. Based on this information, Golding and Goldman requested an injunction to prevent the Department of Natural Resources from harvesting the Crocker acreage.

 As DNR’s logging operations were scheduled to take place within 10 days, the hearing ended with a commitment on the part of Superior Court Judge Brandon Mack to review the arguments over the weekend and provide a ruling on January 21.

 Early last week, Judge Mack ordered an injunction that prevents the DNR from any operations, including tree harvesting and road building, at the Crocker site. The order made clear that the reason for the injunction was, in part, tied to the DNR’s failure to provide an explanation for why it did not follow its own policy of developing complex forest plots. The court will consider requests for an expedited hearing, placing a minimum two- to three-month delay on a permanent decision.