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Lake Whatcom-area trees spared by new carbon credit project

Controversial tree sale canceled

A stand of "nearly-old-growth trees" in the Bessie forest
A stand of "nearly-old-growth trees" in the Bessie forest (Photo courtesy of Rob Lewis)
By Julia Lerner Staff Reporter

The controversial $2.2 million potential sale of state-owned forest near Lake Whatcom has been canceled in lieu of a first-of-its-kind carbon offset project. 

The state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) announced plans Wednesday to preserve over 10,000 acres of Washington’s forests, including 46 acres of “near-old-growth” trees, part of the “Bessie Sorts” stand in Whatcom County.

State officials say the new project will offset millions of metric tons of carbon emissions by entering the forests, including forests in Whatcom, Thurston, King and Grays Harbor, into leases that stipulate their use for storing carbon while generating revenue for state trust land beneficiaries, including schools, colleges and local services.

The project will allow the state to lease protected lands to interested businesses for carbon sequestration and storage at a price that is “reflective of the economic value of logging,” according to DNR.

Once leased, the properties will be moved onto the carbon market. The proposed sale of carbon credits from the designated land will bring in revenue to replace the funds that would have been generated from logging on these acres.

At this point, DNR has not formalized any buyers or leasers for the project, though they are “soliciting commitments and interest from significant companies with ties to Washington,” according to DNR’s communications director Sarah Ford.

Because they do not yet have official partners tied to the project, DNR has not been able to determine lease terms.

“This represents the next generation of carbon projects — a truly transformative approach to preserving our most ecologically valuable forests and supporting our communities,” DNR’s Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz said in a press release. “The climate crisis is at our doorstep, and now is the time for bold measures to reduce carbon, protect ecologically significant forests and provide needed revenue for public schools, libraries and hospitals.”

photo  More than 1,000 acres of forestland in Whatcom County have been protected from logging by a new carbon credit project from the Department of Natural Resources. Phase one of the project involves protecting forestland in the Lake Whatcom Watershed. (Photo courtesy of the Washington State Department of Natural Resources)  


Though DNR intended to sell the acreage for logging, public outcry led the department to halt the sale, initially approved last year. More than 1,000 locals called, submitted comments, and wrote letters about the sale. 

Protecting Bessie’s trees in particular was a major concern for locals, as the trees lie within the Lake Whatcom Watershed, the water source for more than 100,000 people in the region. 

The new project will protect more than 1,000 additional acres of forestland in Whatcom County, most of it within the Lake Whatcom watershed.  

RE Sources, a local environmental nonprofit, has been calling for DNR to protect the trees for months. 

“[We] have been trying to protect this unit from logging because of the benefits these forests offer, including carbon storage, water retention and filtration, slope stabilization, and wildlife habitat,” they said in a statement. 

Story was updated at 3:18 p.m. to include additional information from DNR.

Story was updated again at 4:27 p.m. to include additional information regarding the project. 

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