Braun bill to improve management of state trust lands heard in budget committee

Legislation aimed at improving management of Washington state’s forest trust lands was the subject of a public hearing in Monday’s Senate Ways and Means Committee. The bill, sponsored by Sen. John Braun, establishes an average annual goal of raising $230 million from activities on the state’s forest and trust lands.

“It’s possible to protect our natural resources and maximize their value to our citizens and schools,” said Braun, R-Centralia, who is the ranking minority member of the budget-writing committee. “Overall returns to the taxpayers have gone down and it’s clear that better management and operations must be prioritized. Providing clear expectations to the department will help ensure the state generates adequate resources that help our schools and create jobs throughout the state.”

The Washington State Department of Natural Resources is responsible for managing 2 million acres of federally granted trust lands. The overwhelming majority of the acreage — 1.8 million — provide revenue for public schools, with the rest going toward state universities, correctional facilities and the Capitol campus in Olympia. The department is also charged with overseeing more than 600,000 acres of state forest land, with revenues supporting the county and local taxing districts.

Revenues come from timber harvest, agricultural leases for grazing and crops, as well as leasing sites for telecommunications equipment, mining and energy production. In addition to generating income for the state, the lands are also managed to protect habitat for plant and animals, water resources and recreation opportunities.

In addition to setting revenue targets, the legislation also directs DNR to create a strategy for meeting financial targets. Braun specifically wants to see better utilization of high-value lands that are not generating reasonable returns.

“These lands and the resources on them are valuable to rural communities by helping protect family-wage jobs in places that haven’t seen the same job growth and economic opportunity as other parts of the state,” said Braun, who represents parts of Lewis, Cowlitz, Clark and Thurston Counties.

Braun said returns on managed lands have gone down from $228 million per year in the 1990’s to $197 million per year in the 2000’s.

The bill was already approved by the Senate Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources & Parks Committee, which gave unanimous support and forwarded it along to the Senate budget committee.