September 23, 2009
Celebrate Public Lands this Saturday, and every day
by Peter Goldmark
Commissioner of Public Lands
This Saturday marks National Public Lands Day, a time to consider the many benefits we get from these mostly undeveloped federal, state and local government-managed lands.
About 3 million acres – a small fraction of the state’s area – are state-owned trust lands managed by the Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR). DNR also manages about 2.6 million acres of aquatic lands, such as the bedlands under Puget Sound, natural lakes and navigable rivers.
DNR-managed lands, along with other public and private lands, help make Washington the “Evergreen State.” What may be most notable about Washington’s state-owned and trust lands is that we still have them to use and enjoy. While other states long ago sold off or traded away land they received from the federal government in trust at statehood, Washington State retains more than 90 percent of its original land grant.
Today, you see these lands almost anywhere you go in Washington – hiking trails on Mt. Si near I-90 in eastern King County, working forests along U.S. Highway 101 on the Olympic Peninsula, wind farms near Ellensburg, and croplands, orchards, and vineyards east of the Cascade Mountains.
Many of these lands are held in trust, that is, DNR manages them for beneficiaries including public schools, universities, community colleges, and other state institutions. Since 1970, these public institutions have received more than $6 billion in non-tax revenue generated by state trust lands. DNR also manages hundreds of thousands of acres of forestlands that help fund public services, such as hospitals, libraries and emergency services, in many counties.
DNR manages these vast acreages for other values compatible with trust management, such as clean water, healthy habitat for plants and animals, and recreation for the public.
The lands managed by DNR come in many varieties:
- Loomis Natural Resources Conservation Area in Okanogan County: One of 29 such areas that protect unique natural features, Loomis is open for low-impact recreation. This 24,600-acre site protects 12 plant species and provides habitat to 9 wildlife species including the Canada lynx.
- North Bay Natural Area Preserve in Grays Harbor County: One of 53 such preserves across the state, North Bay protects the best remaining examples of native habitat. This 1,200-acre site contains one of the highest quality coastal freshwater bogs in Washington.
- Fidalgo Bay Aquatic Reserve in Skagit County: Part of DNR’s role as steward of the state’s 2.6 million acres of state-owned aquatic lands, this biologically rich preserve is home and foraging ground for herring, salmon, shellfish, and waterfowl.
- Olympic Experimental State Forest in Clallam and Jefferson counties: DNR manages this 260,000-acre commercial forest to support trust beneficiaries but also for applied research into habitat conservation and forest management techniques.
And then, for recreation and outdoor enjoyment, there are the many off-road vehicle areas, groomed snowmobile trails, horse camps, trailheads, campgrounds, day-use areas–and let’s not forget hundreds of miles of hiking, motorized and nature trails through wild, open land. The millions of acres of public parklands, recreational areas, trails, wildlife areas, municipal watersheds, conservation lands and resource lands in Washington are for all of us to enjoy and preserve for future generations.
Washington state means many things to many people. But however you define our state, it’s character and beauty are rooted in the wide open spaces, vistas of undeveloped land, waterways, forestland, and clean water. Keeping what we have of this rich natural bounty and restoring more of it for the future is how public lands serve you today and tomorrow.
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Media Contact: Bob Redling, senior communications manager, 360-902-1149, firstname.lastname@example.org