DNR FIELD NOTES
February 25, 2010
DNR and the State of Puget Sound: Why forest conversion matters to all of us
By Peter Goldmark
Commissioner of Public Lands
Washington State Department of Natural Resources
One of the biggest challenges facing Puget Sound is what’s happening on dry land around it, especially the conversion of working forests into housing developments, shopping centers and other non-habitat uses in the Sound’s watershed.
The Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has made cleaning up and restoring Puget Sound a top priority, which is why the agency takes to heart the recent update from Puget Sound Partnership. The Partnership’s 2009 State of the Sound report—– a once-every-two-years review of the health of the Sound’s ecosystem —reveals that the pattern of decline continues as it has since the first State of the Sound came out in 1988.
Why does the state agency that so many associate with timber and state trust lands care so much about the Sound? DNR’s management responsibilities for Puget Sound are many and give our work special urgency:
- DNR regulates forest practices on 3.3 million forested acres that drain to Puget Sound, including 700,000 acres of state-owned forest trust lands in the watershed.
- DNR manages 2.6 million acres of natural resource lands in the Puget Sound watershed, which is 25 percent of the entire watershed.
- DNR-managed natural resource lands in the Puget Sound watershed include 1.9 million acres of aquatic lands, most of which are beneath the water and subject to daily pollution from thousands of outfalls and streams draining into the Sound.
While important advances have been made in restoring estuary habitat and cleaning up commercial shellfish areas, the State of the Sound finds one tough problem continues: the loss of the vital habitats that can nurture the Sound’s health. The biggest losses are caused by sprawling development and conversion of forestlands.
The troubling findings in the report include:
- Twenty-five percent of working forests in Puget Sound were converted out of forest to development and other uses between 1988 and 2004.
- More eelgrass sites (important to many marine species) are declining.
- Herring spawning has decreased 40 percent between the 1970s and 2007.
- Chinook salmon spawning is well below the numbers required for recovery.
DNR is working to reverse the trend of forestland conversion—a major stressor on the health of Puget Sound. Land conversion does more than disrupt and degrade the ecosystem for imperiled fish and wildlife; it causes more flooding, more pollution in streams and marine areas, and fewer opportunities for outdoor recreation.
Currently, we are developing a five-year strategic plan for DNR which will include action steps such as working public and private landowners to retain more working forest lands and expanding our current restoration program for the near-shore areas of the Sound. These actions can pay big dividends for the future of the Sound.
I have made cleaning up and restoring Puget Sound a top priority for DNR. We are collaborating closely with the Puget Sound Partnership as it implements its Action Agenda to recover the Sound to health by 2020. This is a daunting task, but with strong leadership, bold action and citizen involvement, we believe we can achieve this critical mission together.
Peter Goldmark is Commissioner of Public Lands and administers DNR and its $625 million two-year budget.
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EDITOR: Photographs of Peter Goldmark and of DNR restoration projects in various parts of Puget Sound are available on request.
Contact: Bob Redling, Senior Communications Manager, 360-902-1149, firstname.lastname@example.org