ECHO SYSTEM TIMBER SALE, King County — When it fell into this rich soil and sprouted, Washington was not yet a state. The seedling sank its roots deep and grew bigger and bigger as its first century of life dragged on into another, now within earshot of Interstate 90.

Alan Mainwaring, a wildlife biologist for the Washington Department of Natural Resources, wrapped a band around the tree’s mighty trunk and measured nearly 54 inches. The tree responded, its wood creaking, as it drove a borer into the tree and pulled out a thin core, then counted its rings. At about 144 years old and 190 feet tall, this Douglas fir is the size of prime timber on state land that might ordinarily be cut down and sold for lumber.

But under a new policy announced Wednesday by Washington’s Public Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz, that fir tree will instead be preserved, as part of the state’s new 10,000-acre “carbon reserve.”

The state intends to lease the trees as carbon credits to emitters of greenhouse gases that cause global warming.

Money from sales in these forests will compensate recipients of state trust lands, including the public school building fund, and money for hospital districts, library districts and more.

The 10,000 acres would represent only a small portion of the state’s forest trust lands, a mere 0.5%. But as climate change threatens the planet, these trees have more living value than as timber, said Franz, who announced the carbon pool during a press conference at the State Capitol Forest on Wednesday.

The sequestration of carbon dioxide, a heat-trapping gas, in trees that use it as food to grow, helps mitigate the worst effects of climate change. Overall, forests absorb about a third of all annual carbon emissions from the combustion of fossil fuels.

As scientists growing warning climate change threatens the planet“I’m convinced that with climate change here, we have to save our forests to really save ourselves,” Franz said.

“The most sustainable environmental thing we can do is increase the number of acres of land in forests, both natural forests and working forests, and we have very, very little time left to save both.”

Franz said the new carbon reserve is the result of a commitment she made a year ago to step back from harvesting the state’s older forests to assess their value to biodiversity. , climate and more.

The DNR is increasingly criticized for harvesting these trees. which are not protected by its policy on old growth but which nevertheless have a high ecological value.

The reserve is being put in place gradually. A total of 3,750 acres is currently set aside, with the remainder yet to be identified for preservation in phase two. Under a commissioner’s order, a total of 10,000 acres will be set aside in areas available for lease only for the purpose of carbon storage and income generation for state trust beneficiaries through carbon markets.

The program in Washington is launched with forest protection in Whatcom, Thurston, King and Grays Harbor counties.

DNR trust lands generate approximately $180 million annually for schools and counties across the state.

By diversifying revenue sources beyond harvesting to include carbon leases, trusts could actually come out on top, with revenue generated with greater financial stability and certainty, Franz said.

She predicted that carbon leases would generate tens of millions of dollars for schools, colleges and local services supported by state trust lands.

Forests may be selected for reserve for a range of reasons, including a high concentration of biodiversity; presence of rare, threatened or endangered ecosystems and habitats; watershed protection and erosion control; and resources or areas fundamental to the basic needs and cultural identities of indigenous peoples and local communities.

In this way, the new policy offers a wider palette for conservation beyond the age of a tree.

The policy is already generating strong reactions.

Peter Goldman, director and general counsel of the nonprofit Washington Forest Law Centercalled the “green lipstick on a pig” reserve because it sets aside some state lands for conservation while other state-inherited forests are still cut down.

“It’s great, who could be against it,” he said of the reserve. “But is she just trying to pour cold water on the political heat she’s taking on these sales?”

He also doubted that carbon markets will pay enough to truly make trusts whole.

He and others said they were surprised by the policy because Conservation Northwest, the Washington Environmental Council and other plaintiffs made a decision trial all the way to the state Supreme Court to argue that the DNR has the authority to consider values ​​beyond dollars when determining the management of state land not only for beneficiaries of the trust, but for all the people of Washington. A decision on the case is expected at any time.

Rachel Baker, director of the WEC’s forestry program, said the carbon project shows that it is both possible and necessary to manage the state’s forest lands for multiple benefits, “as we have been saying from the beginning.

“We welcome the DNR taking this step forward.”

However, that step is small, she noted: 10,000 acres is about 0.5% of MNR Forest Trust Lands. “That’s a good thing, but we’re interested in what MNR is doing with the remaining 1.99 million acres,” Baker said. “We would like to see the DNR use this as a starting point and manage state lands holistically for the climate.”

In a statement late Tuesday, Travis Joseph of the American Forest Resource Council, a logging industry trade association, said the reserve adds too much to other policies already in place to conserve forests that place near the half of the DNR trust lands in western Washington. out of harvest limit.

“We are concerned that Commissioner Franz is moving forward without analysis or recognition of the consequences to tie the future of the Department, Washington’s forestry workers…and our public forests to complex and contentious financial markets with uncertain environmental outcomes. “Joseph said.

As the people go on, so do the trees.

The large Douglas fir from the Echo System sale is in full swing as it enters its second century – this is just the beginning of a magnificent species like the Doug fir, which can live 800 years or more, noted Mainwaring.

This forest grew after a fire in 1790. It was logged by hand in 1850, the logs being dragged by teams of oxen. Many trees were left behind – and today many have grown to massive size.

All around the forest are giant trees, some sprouted from the stumps of the forest blackened by this fire. It is a place rich in wildlife.

A trunk was bare where a black-tailed deer had recently rubbed the velvet of its antlers. The trees were chiseled by woodpeckers looking for grubs, the woodchips scattering yellow all over the ground. The canopy grew into the cover favored by flying squirrels.

Fallen logs and windfall rotted into the debris that feeds the ground and the next generation of trees. The understory was a tangle of salal, bilberry, and ferns. The first trill of spring shone white in the shaded forest floor.

It is not an old growth forest. “We’ve cut too many old growth forests,” Mainwaring said. In many places, “It’s the best we have left.”

He put away his coring equipment and tapped the thick, mossy bark of the tree as he emerged from the woods. “You’re just a youngster,” he said. “No offense, you are beautiful. But still, just a sapling.

That now will happen to become old.