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WA Supreme Court rules that trust lands are to fund schools

The judges ruled against environmental groups who argued the DNR was too focused on logging state lands to generate revenue for school construction and other purposes.

SPOKANE, Wash. – The Washington state Supreme Court ruled Thursday that the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) must administer state trust lands for the financial benefit of schools and other institutions, dismissing a claim by environmental groups that such lands for the benefit all residents should be managed.

In a unanimous decision, the judges ruled against environmental groups that claimed DNR was too focused on logging state lands to generate revenue for school construction and other purposes.

The Supreme Court also ruled that DNR has a legal obligation to manage forest land for the benefit of counties that have granted land to the state.

The DNR guidelines provide “a benefit to the general population by boosting local economies and maintaining stronger and better-funded public education and government systems,” the court ruled.

“DNR’s discretionary land management strategies are not unconstitutional, arbitrary or capricious,” the court upheld the trial court’s dismissal of the case.

After Washington’s statehood in 1889, the federal government granted the state 3 million acres of land earmarked to support public institutions, including building K-12 schools and state universities. Approximately 2 million acres of federally granted state trust lands are forested.

The state constitution states that “all public lands granted to the state are held in trust for all people”.

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Conservation Northwest, Washington Environmental Council, Olympic Forest Coalition and eight affected individuals from across the state filed a lawsuit alleging that state lands are currently managed to maximize revenue for certain funds before any other goal.

The state’s focus on revenue generation leads to intensive deforestation of public lands, in contrast to a more balanced approach of logging, employment, promoting forest health and fisheries, and carbon sequestration, the lawsuit states.

“Washingtoners should not be forced to choose between timber revenues and healthy forests that protect local air, water and habitat — especially in times of climate crisis and species decline and extinction,” the environmental groups argued.

The trustees fund no more than 6% of state school construction annually, environmental groups said.

Plaintiffs filed a lawsuit against DNR in King County Superior Court in 2020, claiming that land be cultivated for the good of all people. The lower court ruled in favor of DNR, and the case then went to the state Supreme Court.

https://www.king5.com/article/news/local/washington-state-supreme-court-trust-lands-fund-schools/281-e6e5e39f-7bb3-4d68-bb96-a3655bc64794 WA Supreme Court rules that trust lands are to fund schools

Alley Einstein

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