Save Our Forests - Support the Keep Washington Evergreen Initiative

Washington kicked off another state legislative session this week. Read more about a bold proposal The Mountaineers is supporting that would conserve and restore one of Washington’s greatest treasures - our forests.
The Mountaineers The Mountaineers
January 14, 2022

It was the evergreen conifer trees synonymous with the Pacific Northwest that gave Washington State its nickname, “the Evergreen State.” Washington offers the opportunity to experience and appreciate these majestic trees in all seasons, from big cities to the wilderness. These tall sentinels shade our campsites and trails, cleanse the air, and play an integral role in the iconic mountain vistas we love. They’re more than a symbol - they’re deeply rooted and connected to our communities, public health, and culture in the Pacific Northwest.

Shrinking forests 

Increased development, logging, wildfires, and other challenges have brought us to a critical juncture for forests across Washington. Washington is losing forestland due to development at an unsustainable rate, and it’s been a growing problem for decades. Statewide, we lost nearly 400,000 acres of forest between 2007 and 2019 alone. At the current pace, Washington is on track to lose approximately 625,000 more acres to development by 2040. 

Now is a critical time to act to avoid permanent loss of our state’s forests to development. In response to this threat, Washington Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz and the state’s Department of Natural Resources recently announced the “Keep Washington Evergreen” initiative to conserve our state’s forests and adapt to a changing climate.

Breaking down the bill

This bipartisan bill was introduced in both the state House (HB 1895) and Senate (SB 5633) this week by Senators Christine Rolfes (D - Bainbridge Island) and Shelly Short (R - Addy), and Representatives Kirsten Harris-Talley (D - Seattle) and Jacquelin Maycumber (R - Republic).

If passed and signed into law, Keep Washington Evergreen directs the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to develop a plan to achieve three important goals by 2040: protecting a million acres of the state’s forestland from conversion, reforesting one million acres of forests, and restoring the health of one million acres of forests. Efforts to restore and increase tree canopies and promote tree equity in underserved communities will also be a strong point of emphasis in this initiative.

The bill also directs DNR to hold a public stakeholder engagement process to inform their planning efforts, as well as promote voluntary and incentive-based means of forest conservation. This legislation marks the beginning of a journey, as it will hopefully lay the groundwork for more meaningful investments in the future. 

This framework can pivot our state away from the disturbing trend of forest loss and help us align with ongoing national efforts to protect our lands and waters and fight the climate crisis, such as the Conserving and Restoring America the Beautiful initiative.

Our Forests need The Mountaineers

Some Mountaineers members were afforded a preview of Commissioner Franz’s new vision for Washington forest conservation and reforestation at our 2021 Evening of Advocacy event last fall. Our members were instantly drawn in by this big idea. What would it look like? How would you calculate acres reforested? What would it mean for recreation? 

Washington’s forests are integral not only to The Mountaineers mission, members, and programs, but they are critically important to the future of our climate, environment, economy, and communities. We support this initiative because it spells success for conservation, climate, and recreation. We’re grateful to Commissioner Franz for her visionary leadership. 

Legislative Outlook

A diverse group of stakeholders have already come together to engage with DNR to help this landmark initiative take shape. Many in the conservation community, local Tribes, the forest products industry, and groups focused on urban forestry and environmental justice are at the table seizing this opportunity to move toward a more climate-resilient and equitable future for all Washingtonians.

We’re optimistic about the prospect of these bills passing the legislature in this year’s short session. Keep Washington Evergreen is slated for a House hearing on Tuesday, January 18 and a Senate hearing on Thursday, January 20. We’ll be tracking the bills as they move through the process, and are already having ongoing conversations with DNR legislative staff. The Mountaineers and Outdoor Alliance Washington will continue to engage in this effort and represent the recreation community as this work continues. 

Given the nature of the legislative process, it's going to take public support to help elevate this issue with lawmakers and bring home a victory in year one. We’ll keep you updated on opportunities to advocate for a better future for Washington’s forests and communities. Reach out to conservation@mountaineers.org if you’re interested in hearing more about Keep Washington Evergreen.

Lead Image of hiker on the Mt. Si old Trail. Photo by Tim Nair.