Laurel Demkovich

(Washington State Standard) The state Department of Natural Resources will purchase about 9,000 acres of forestland in southwest Washington to generate revenue from logging.

It’s the largest state land purchase in more than a decade, according to the department.

The State Board of Natural Resources on Tuesday approved the transaction, which involves land in Wahkiakum County and will cost the state $55 million. Money for the purchase will come from proceeds from previous land transactions and from revenue generated by the state’s new auctions of air pollution allowances to businesses.

The property is currently owned by a private landowner, which department officials said they cannot disclose until after the sale is finalized. It’s expected to close in mid-December.

“This is a transformational opportunity for Washington state to add to our public lands and keep working forests working,” Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz said in a statement.

Each of the four tracts that are part of the purchase are adjacent to lands already managed by the Department of Natural Resources.

The department manages about 5.6 million acres of land overall. A primary part of its mission is to use those lands in ways that generate money for public schools. For forestland, that’s traditionally meant timber harvests.

Lately, the department has looked at new uses for some of the lands, including ways to get housing built on certain parcels.

In recent months, the department has also sold property that isn’t well suited for logging to local governments to use for affordable housing and other development.

Under the Wahkiakum County deal, the state will purchase 941 acres on the southern end of the Elochoman State Forest with more than $7 million in funding. Revenue from the land would benefit the Common School trust, which goes toward K-12 construction across the state.

The rest of the land, located north and northwest of Cathlamet, will be purchased with $47.8 million of Climate Commitment Act funding allocated to the department over the next two years.

The state’s new cap-and-trade program, created under the climate law, requires industrial polluters to purchase allowances from the state at auctions if they cannot meet emissions caps. The revenue from those purchases must be used for programs to fight climate change.

The lands from this transaction will be set aside in the department’s land bank.

U.S. Rep. Marie Gluesenkamp Perez, D-Wash., whose district includes the land, applauded the sale.

“By investing in thousands of acres of working forests in Wahkiakum County, Washington State DNR is helping ensure our woods stay healthy and we maintain thriving local forest product economies,” she said in a statement.

Most of the lands have high-quality soils, according to the department. Some of the land is recently logged and replanted with young trees, while other areas are mature enough to be harvested.

Skamania County Commissioner Tom Lannen said the county has suffered in recent years as forestry declined on federal lands. The purchase will increase revenue for rural counties while maintaining access to valuable timber products, he added.

Wahkiakum County Commissioner Lee Tischer echoed that view. “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,” Tischer said.

The department has acquired more than 100,000 acres of forestland since 1980, according to a press release. The Board of Natural Resources has approved other purchases of land in Clark, Cowlitz, Pacific and Wahkiakum counties in the past year.