Commissioner Hilary Franz Introduces “Keep Washington Evergreen” Plan for Forest Conservation and Reforestation
November 30, 2021
Initiative would create framework and secure funding for conservation of one million acres of working and natural forests, as well as reforestation of one million acres across Washington
Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz and Rep. Kirsten Harris-Talley (D-Seattle) joined forestry advocates, Tribal leaders, and industry experts from across the state on Tuesday to introduce the Keep Washington Evergreen initiative to further conserve, reforest, and restore critical forestlands.
Keep Washington Evergreen aims to conserve one million acres of working forests, while reforesting an additional one million acres, including in burn-scarred and urban communities with disproportionately small amounts of tree cover, by 2040. The initiative was developed in close consultation with stakeholders, including Tribal partners, environmentalists, conservation groups, environmental justice advocates, and members of the forest products industry.
Washington State permanently lost 400,000 acres of forestland to human development from 2007 to 2019. Scientists expect the pace of forest conversion to increase without intervention, but even at the current pace, the state is on track to lose an additional 625,000 acres to development by 2040.
In addition, more than 4.5 million acres have burned in wildfires since 2010.
Commissioner Franz is partnering with the Legislature to develop a 20-Year strategy, establish a stakeholder advisory group, and make an initial investment of $25 million in capital funds to help meet the goals of Keep Washington Evergreen. The $25 million will be used to acquire critical forestlands at risk of development and keep working forests working for all of Washington.
Rep. Harris-Talley and Sen. Christine Rolfes (D-Bainbridge Island) will co-sponsor the Keep Washington Evergreen legislation, which has bipartisan support, during the 2022 legislative session.
“The short-sighted conversion of working forests in Washington presents a clear and dire threat to our environment, economy and communities that depend on healthy forests on both sides of the Cascades,” said Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz, who leads the Department of Natural Resources. “As we continue to improve our wildfire response and make our forests more resilient to climate change, we must also ensure the forests that provide clean air and water, fish and wildlife habitat, and housing and jobs are not lost to concrete. We must keep Washington evergreen.”
“Over the last few years, our state has led the nation by building resilience to the threats of climate change and adopting policies to save our most endangered species – and we have done it the Washington way by bringing people together and moving forward with bold solutions,” said Sen. Christine Rolfes (D-Bainbridge Island). “Now we have the opportunity to solve another critical challenge by taking comprehensive action to save what makes Washington so special – our trees and forests.”
Keep Washington Evergreen directs the Department of Natural Resources and other state agencies to work with a diverse set of partners and stakeholder groups to identify and prioritize the most threatened working forests in Washington to prevent their conversion and to prioritize landscapes with the greatest need for reforestation efforts.
“Healthy forests and urban trees are integral to our physical, mental and communal well-being all across Washington,” said Mike Stevens, Washington state director for The Nature Conservancy. “Trees and forests help people protect drinking water, clean the air, sequester carbon, provide unparalleled recreational opportunities, good jobs, and irreplaceable fish and wildlife habitat – but we’re losing our forests, and all the benefits they bring, as our population grows and the climate changes. We’re committed to supporting DNR’s statewide effort to restore, conserve and reforest Washington and create a healthier, more resilient future for nature and people.”
The impact of forest loss has not been felt equally across the state. Studies have shown that low-income blocks and communities of color consistently have below-average tree cover and fewer urban forests compared to affluent, majority-white neighborhoods.
In Seattle, according to American Forest’s Tree Equity scoring tool, you can travel fewer than seven miles and experience a 13-degree difference in temperature between an affluent, predominantly white community, and a predominantly non-white community due to drastic differences in tree cover.
Lack of urban tree cover not only increases the risk of health issues such as asthma, it also amplifies the threat to human life posed by heat waves. Nearly 100 Washingtonians died last summer of heat-related causes during the record-setting heat dome in early July.
Forest conversion has also threatened our rural communities, reducing critical forestry jobs and economic development while placing more development in the wildland-urban interface – increasing wildfire risk.
As part of developing a strategic plan for implementing Keep Washington Evergreen, the stakeholder advisory group will be tasked with identifying data sources such as the Washington Environmental Health Disparities Map to make sure the areas in greatest need of urban tree replanting are given the highest priority.
“Expanding our urban forests is a critical part of building climate resiliency,” said Rep. Kirsten Harris-Talley (D-Seattle). “We are blessed to be in a state that wants to move to proactive management of our forests; which hold so much life, medicine, and health for our state. We want fewer forest fires, more time enjoying our public forests, and expanded access for youth and communities of color. Healthy, thriving forests that welcome all of us are possible.”
Keep Washington Evergreen builds off the early successes of House Bill 1168 – the transformative $500 million investment over eight years in wildfire response, forest restoration, and community resiliency Franz secured earlier this year from the state Legislature.
Timber industry and environmental organizations alike expressed their support for Keep Washington Evergreen as a necessary extension of the work supported by House Bill 1168.
“It is WFPA’s vision that forestry is recognized for its many benefits and becomes the state’s preferred land use,” said Jason Spadaro, executive director of the Washington Forest Protection Association. “It is critical that we maintain a portfolio of working forests of all types across our state. Healthy working forests provide salmon and wildlife habitat, climate benefits, green jobs, and rural economic health while helping to prevent catastrophic fires. We are in support of DNR’s vision today to develop programs that keep all types of working forests a part of Washington’s future. Each acre of forest lost, whether to wildfire or conversion to other uses, takes the state further from its environmental and economic goals.”
“The Mountains to Sound Greenway National Heritage Area has always included a mix of working and protected forests, both public and private, to ensure connected habitat, healthy watersheds, clean air and clean waters, and economic benefits for communities,” said Amy Brockhaus, deputy director for Mountains to Sound Greenway. “We applaud DNR’s Keep Washington Evergreen legislation for forest health restoration, land conservation, and reforestation across Washington State.”
- Video of today’s press conference
- Photos from today’s press conference
- TVW video
- One-page fact sheet on Keep Washington Evergreen
- Forest health and urban forestry b-roll
DNR Communications Manager