Lands in trust

Lost in the forest law

Toby Thaler quotes the Washington state Constitution in support of his opinion that Washington state forest trustlands should not be managed solely to obtain income (Northwest Voices, April 21). While his constitutional quote is correct, his interpretation is in error.

By requiring the public grantlands to be held "in trust," the framers of the constitution did, indeed, know what they were doing. They were requiring that the trustlands be managed like other capital assets held in trust by public institutions. Such assets must be managed prudently to produce income at a reasonable rate of return while simultaneously protecting the corpus of the trust in the long term. Those who Thaler accuses of "profiting" from revenue-producing activities such as timber harvests are, in fact, contributing to Washington Department of Natural Resources' (WDNR) trustland obligations.

Case law and a 1996 opinion of the Washington state attorney general support this interpretation. In short, the 1996 opinion states that, "in managing the grantlands, the WDNR may only take into account factors consistent with ensuring the economic value and productivity of the federal grantlands."

Thaler, and others before him, apparently believe that if they repeat an erroneous statement often enough, it becomes believable. Unfortunately, it is still an error of fact.

-- B. Bruce Bare, Professor, College of Forest Resources, University of Washington, Seattle

from, Letters to the Editor, Seattle Times, April 30, 2001

To Return to: Prof Bare's Page, College of Forest Resources