WA uses carbon auction funds to make largest land purchase in more than a decade

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(The Center Square) – The Washington State Board of Natural Resources on Tuesday approved the $55 million purchase of more than 9,000 acres of forestland in Wahkiakum County using mostly funding from the state’s carbon auctions.

It’s the state’s largest land acquisition in more than a decade and revenue from anticipated timber harvests are expected to boost local economies and Washington’s Common School Trust while providing environmental benefits.

A component of the state’s Climate Commitment Act, cap-and-trade puts a price on emissions in the form of carbon auctions, which the state hopes will motivate large industrial polluters – oil refineries and energy utilities, for example – to reduce their emissions. The new cap-and-trade plan, which went into effect this year, has brought in $1.4 billion so far. It has been linked by some to an increase in gas prices in Washington.

Washington Public Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz called it a “transformational opportunity” to keep “working forests working” while adding to the state’s “land bank” of properties. In a news release Tuesday, Franz expressed appreciation to county commissioners and state legislators involved in the process.

“We are extremely pleased to support DNR’s purchase of timberland in Wahkiakum County,” said county commissioner Lee Tischer. “With this purchase, this land will remain in timber production in perpetuity, and our county’s residents, schools, and fire districts will benefit financially for generations to come.”

The acquisitions are being similarly hailed by 3rd District U.S. Rep. Marie Gluesenkamp Perez, D-Wash., commissioners from neighboring Skamania and Jefferson counties, and the Washington State Association of Counties.

Wahkiakum and Jefferson counties have some of the state’s highest jobless rates, according to the Washington Department of Employment Security.

Jefferson County commissioner Heidi Eisenhour said the purchases would allow DNR to preserve “structurally complex, carbon-dense existing forestlands” while replacing them with other highly productive “working timberlands,” providing both environmental and economic benefits to residents.

“Like many counties where timber harvest is an important industry, Skamania County has suffered economically for many years as forestry declined on national forestland,” said Skamania County Commissioner Tom Lannen. “This purchase is a great step toward increasing revenue for rural counties to provide sorely needed financial resources while assuring access to valuable timber products for the timber industry we all rely upon.”

The four properties are adjacent to lands already managed by the state Department of Natural Resources. The purchases are expected to close in mid-December.

One transaction involves 941 acres on the southern end of the Elochoman State Forest, east of Cathlamet, the Wahkiakum County seat. The $7.2 million land purchase will be funded from the state’s Property Replacement Account and will benefit the Common School Trust, which supports K-12 public school construction in Washington.

The other transaction involves three properties totaling 8,174 acres north and northwest of Cathlamet. They will be purchased with $47.8 million in Climate Commitment Act monies appropriated in the state’s 2023-25 capital budget and held in DNR’s “land bank” for later designation to specific trust accounts.

DNR says most of lands have high-quality soils and trees, which range in age from recently harvested and replanted to those mature enough to be harvested.

Earlier this year, DNR acquired other parcels of forestland totaling 1,100 acres in the southwest Washington counties of Clark, Cowlitz, Pacific, and Wahkiakum, plus 226 acres within the latter county in 2021.

Maps and photos of the parcels can be viewed on the Board of Natural Resources website.

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