by Conservation Northwest Staff
Wild Northwest Action Alert #312: Ask your legislators to continue to fund and empower the Trust Land Transfer Program.
Since 1989, the state of Washington has spent more than $800 million to protect about 128,000 acres of state public lands for wildlife habitat, outdoor recreation, and other public benefits through a process called Trust Land Transfer (TLT). But this vital program is at risk of being overlooked in this difficult budget year.
Washington has about three million acres of public forests, sagelands and other habitat managed by the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR). Of this, almost two million acres belong to the Common School Trust, established by the Washington State Constitution with lands gifted by Congress.
The DNR generally logs these acres to help fund school construction. But some places are more valuable and pristine, providing important public benefits, so the Legislature created a process to protect crown jewels by using Capital Budget dollars to buy them out of trust status.
Some of your favorite places may have been saved in this way. Such areas as Tiger Mountain, Cypress Island, Lummi Peak, Chopaka Lake, Elsworth Island, and many more were all established through TLT. The wildlands of the Loomis State Forest were protected through a similar process but using private funds. The last big TLT wins were when the Legislature appropriated the final $10 million for Blanchard Mountain in 2018 and $6.3 million for Dabob Bay in 2019.
Many candidates for TLT have limited timber value due to protected species or features. TLT is the only tool DNR has to protect such places and compensate with acres better suited for long-term revenue generation. Yet funding for TLT has declined since before the 2008 recession, putting at risk vital natural areas with strong public support.
The DNR, which recommended this program continue in its 2021 report, recently identified 10 worthy candidates for TLT. In this letter from last fall, conservation leaders highlighted two of those 10: Devils Lake (Dabob Bay) and Morning Star (near Sultan), but the cases are also strong for Blakely Island and Eglon (near Kingston).
By including at least $17.4 million in the Capitol Budget Bill for TLT, state legislators will fund the program and protect these four special places on our public lands. As the pandemic exposes massive demand for outdoor recreation, access to natural places is increasingly important. This funding will go a long way in providing invaluable contributions to public health and local economies, as well as wildlife and clean water.
Please urge your state legislators and budget leaders to fund the Trust Land Transfer Program in the Capitol Budget Bill!