By Little Yew and Big Yew
Walking through Bessie Forest and Upper Rutsatz Forest in Washington State in the springtime, you are held by a thick carpet of ferns and moss. You may spot a rare trillium flower on the forest floor, while the abundant patches of licorice ferns offer their roots as a tasty snack. These forests are among Washington State’s “legacy forests”: they haven’t been logged in over 120 years, and many of their trees date back to the original old growth. While not yet old enough to be classified as old growth, legacy forests contain mature trees which are invaluable carbon sinks, and likewise, if they are left alone for just a few more decades, they will soon be old growth again.
Unfortunately, Bessie Forest, Upper Rutsatz, and fifteen other publicly-owned legacy forests in Washington State have been slated to be logged as early as this year. The forests under threat include the Dashingly Quirky Forest and the Sauerkraut Forest in the Chehalis River basin — which contain many original old growth trees, including giant fir trees with diameters wider than five feet.
What’s particularly shocking is that all of these forests are on publicly owned land. Shouldn’t public ownership of forests protect them? Apparently not in Washington State. The state’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has made it a regular practice to clearcut publicly owned forests with little-to-no public consent, gifting our oldest trees to the logger’s axe.
According to the USDA, a mature tree absorbs at least 48 pounds of carbon dioxide each year, helping draw down this greenhouse gas and cool the climate. Why are we chopping these trees in these times of pending climate chaos? We need all the carbon sinks we can get! Likewise, mature trees provide invaluable flood protection, habitat for wildlife, and are a cultural treasure.
Sometimes activists will put our attention into the long battle of saving one or two forests; however, while we are putting all our energy into defending those forests, the state will often log a dozen more. We have to get smarter in how we oppose these logging sales. We have to get better at understanding the systems that are allowing these logging sales to happen — and change these systems.
Washington State DNR claims that these forests must be logged to fund schools. However, in a Seattle Times interview from March 2021, a school superintendent revealed that the logging barely covers 5% of the school building budget, which is a subcategory of the overall school budget.
Sometimes people also make false claims that “we need to log forests to stop wildfires.” This is dangerously false. The reality is that clearcuts make forests more prone to catastrophic fire. If the goal actually was to make the forests less prone to fire, the state would be consulting Indigenous groups, who have used practices like cultural burns to reduce fire hazards since time immemorial.
You can get involved in the effort to keep Washington State’s legacy forests intact by going to c4rf.org. Or, if you live outside of WA, you might try joining efforts in your region to preserve ecosystems
For a list of all 17 public forests currently under threat of logging in Washington State, go to: c4rf.org and click “Timber Sales.”