County sues state to stop timber sale in Capitol State Forest

‘The County is pursuing litigation because DNR has not conducted the necessary analysis and is actively clearcutting the oldest forests that remain in Thurston County’


Thurston County, along with the nonprofit Legacy Forest Defense Coalition (LFDC), filed suit against the Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR) in Thurston County Superior Court last week concerning the sale of timber to be harvested from “Carrot Patch” in Capitol State Forest.

The Board of Natural Resources approved on January 3 the timber sale along with the sale of the “Cabbage Patch,” which is partly in Thurston County.

Carrot Patch consists of three separate forest units in the Waddell and Cedar Creek watersheds of Capitol State Forest. The three units have a combined area of 69 acres and together with the 4.4 acres of forestland designated for right-of-way, Carrot Patch would have a total land area of 73 acres.

Tara Tsehlana, a public engagement officer of the county prosecuting attorney’s office, confirmed to The JOLT that Cabbage Patch is not included in the litigation.

The Carrot site initially had an area of 152 acres but was reduced to 73 to protect streams, wetlands, unstable slopes, snags, and other sensitive zones, according to the description of the project on various DNR documents. To protect such areas and to provide for wildlife corridors, DNR is retaining a minimum of eight trees larger than 10 inches in diameter at breast height for every acre.

Habitat conservation analysis ‘not conducted’

The county and LFDC’s complaint rests upon the notion that DNR’s policies and procedures require it to create a plan for the retention of “structurally complex” forest stands such as Carrot Patch before authorizing such sales to help the agency attain its “older forest targets.”

According to DNR’s Policy for Sustainable Forests, the agency aims to preserve older forest structures across 10% to 15% of each planning unit in its Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP). 

According to the complaint, the same numbers are found in the HCP’s multispecies conservation strategy.

“Federal permits require DNR to maintain or restore old growth conditions across 10-15% of forestlands in Southwestern Washington, and they must create a plan for meeting this target. The County is pursuing litigation because DNR has not conducted the necessary analysis and is actively clearcutting the oldest forests that remain in Thurston County,” Tshelana explained.

Other than DNR, other respondents to the case include the Board of Natural Resources and Commissioner of Public Land Hilary Franz.

According to the official complaint obtained by The JOLT, the appellants are claiming the following violations:

  1. The respondents violated the Public Lands Act by failing to justify that the sale would be in the best interest of the state.
  2. The respondents failed to accomplish their responsibilities under the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) by approving the sale based on an “erroneous” DNS, which stands for determination of non-significance, a document that determines if a project requires an environmental impact statement.

The appellants are also requesting the court to issue an order for the following:

  1. To invalidate the DNS and the Board of Natural Resources’ approval of the Carrot Patch sale;
  2. To require the preparation of an environmental impact statement for the Carrot Patch sale;
  3. To stop all harvest related to the Carrot Patch sale and to require mitigation should logging take place;
  4. To declare that DNR violated its own HCP, policies, and procedures; and
  5. To instruct DNR to follow its policies regarding the retention of structurally complex forests.

Appellants claim DNR violated its own policies, procedures

The complaint stated that DNR has not yet developed a forest plan for the South Coast HCP planning unit, which includes most of Capitol State Forest.

Based on a DNR Procedure entitled “Identifying and Managing Structurally Complex Forests to Meet Older Forest Targets (Westside)” or DNR PR-004-046, in  the absence of a forest plan, any proposed harvest activities in structurally complex forest stands must include the following information in its SEPA checklist:

  • An assessment of forest conditions using readily available information,
  • An analysis of the known landscape management strategies, and
  • The role of the structurally complex stand in meeting older forest targets.

The county and LFDC argue that this information was not included in DNR’s SEPA checklist for Carrot Patch, which would mean that DNR failed to consider how the sale of Carrot Patch would impact DNR’s older forest targets.

The SEPA checklist is a form used by government agencies to determine whether the environmental impact of a project would be significant. If a project poses probable significant adverse impact on the environment, the project would be issued a determination of significance which means that the project would need to go through a full SEPA review.

DNR prepared its SEPA checklist on May 22, 2023, before issuing a determination of non-significance for the Carrot Patch timber sale on September 21.

In the checklist, DNR acknowledged the presence of “structurally complex” trees across the units of Carrot Patch and stated the retention strategy to be put in place would target these older trees.

“The presence of two cohorts across the units resulted in a significant share of older, structurally complex trees associated with damage and release following high disturbance events. This project’s leave tree retention strategy specifically targeted these older, higher-value wildlife trees,” the checklist stated under a question asking for measures to preserve the vegetation in the site.

In another portion of the checklist, DNR discussed that the implementation of its HCP and other policies would allow the agency to meet its older forest targets over time.

“Landscape assessments made in May 2021 demonstrate that through the implementation of the HCP and other Policies and laws, older forest targets will be met in conservation areas over time… The South Coast HCP planning unit will meet at least 10% older forest within conservation areas by 2100,” DNR stated in the checklist.

The appellants argue, however, that LFDC’s public disclosure request (PDR No. 6554) shows that currently, DNR has only conserved 2,631 acres of structurally complex forests in the South Coast HCP planning unit or less than 1% of the planning unit.

Request for declaratory judgment

The appellants identified possible future timber sales in 18 other “structurally complex” forest sites near Carrot Patch, which DNR plans to auction within the next six years.

The sites include:

  1. Lizard Lounge
  2. Sparrow Hawk
  3. Class Dismissed
  4. Mint
  5. Sunny
  6. Ghost
  7. Rad Aghast
  8. Honey
  9. Comb
  10. Nuggets
  11. Evergreen Gold
  12. Lions Main
  13. Hornet
  14. Misty
  15. Gremlin
  16. Mild Bill
  17. Twisted Top
  18. Biscuits.

The county and LFDC argue that approving these timber sales would have a “significant cumulative effect” on DNR’s ability to reach its older forest targets.

To avoid repeating similar issues being brought to court, the appellants argue that the court should decide on the issue through a declaratory judgment to require DNR to comply with its policies and procedures before considering the harvest of structurally complex forests.

The complaint mentioned that the Jefferson County Superior Court has already granted LFDC a preliminary injunction to address a similar issue after DNR approved the “Last Crocker Sorts” timber sale. 


9 comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here

  • bonaro

    The Capitol "demonstration" Forest is a active logging site intended to promote best practices, which it does. Best practices includes proper management, not saving all the trees.

    There are very few "old growth" forested area in western Washington and all of Capitol forest is second or third growth that was replanted after widespread pioneer clearcutting.

    You tree hugging activists who live in a wood frame house need to chill...this is getting old.

    Thursday, February 8 Report this

  • 2theroots

    Bonaro no one has called this old growth - sadly logging has mostly eliminated that in our state - at this point all we can save is second growth or what is called Legacy Forest - trees 80, 100 and sometimes 120 years old. It is true that DNR has turned most of the rest of Capital forest into plantation forest - which is the whole point of this suit - to preserve what little we have left. Older trees draw down and store much more carbon than younger trees so this is also a climate issue. Thus it is not best practices to log older forests. I very much appreciate that our commissioners have been having to fight DNR to try to protect what we have left.

    We can have all the wood we need from the plantation forests already in our state (especially if 80% of private logging was not be exported out of Port of Olympia to other countries. You name call and then say this is getting old. I think it is your out dated ideas about logging that is getting old.

    Friday, February 9 Report this

  • wildnature

    I support our County Commissioners, the Legacy Forest Defense Coalition law suit, and the comments of 2theroots. I'm 73 years old.

    Friday, February 9 Report this

  • SecondOtter

    Enough is enough. Those of us who live at the foot of the Black Hills see the destruction of the Capitol Forest. The clear cutting results in balds, areas that are then subject to mudslides. Let's not forget that thousands of animals: deer, elk, birds, reptiles...depend on the forest.

    What the DNR is doing is NOT "proper management'. That term means selective cutting, not wholesale eradication of acres of trees. And the after math is piles of slash left to create a fire hazard (one of which happened just last fall, just below Capitol Peak), erosion, loss of habitat, etc. It's not replanted in trees. It's allowed to go to scotch broom.

    Those posters who sneer at 'tree hugging activists' are just another example of people who just don't get it. Or who are making a lot of money despoiling the environment. Or maybe are living in their car.

    Friday, February 9 Report this

  • GinnyAnn

    I used to work at DNR in Timber Sales and in the Policy Office, but not under Commissioner Franz. I know that the agency has ways of getting around RCWs and environmental policies if the agency has a desire to log a forest. The agency's mission is to sell logs to raise money for the state. The logs equal money to the agency, not "legacy" or "environment." When a logger sees a tree, he/she immediately starts to calculate board feet. Then they come in for coffee or a beer and talk about how much they love working in the woods. They used to laugh at tree huggers such as myself. The lack of response to public protest against their logging of such beautiful, second growth forests is common practice and doesn't surprise me.

    Friday, February 9 Report this

  • KellyOReilly

    I thank the JOLT for bringing this matter to our attention. I'm grateful for the work of the Legacy Forest Defense Coalition and for them filing this lawsuit against the DNR which is clearly not practicing best management practices. I've also sent a donation to LFDC to put my money where my mouth it. Peace.

    Friday, February 9 Report this

  • JnNwmn

    If we quit sending shiploads of trees to Asia we would not need to keep cutting and

    gutting the forests of the western United States.

    Friday, February 9 Report this

  • Boatyarddog

    Bonaro Not only are you incorrect, Your Rude.

    OLD growth, second or third growth is closer to sustaining habitat than an Active Logging area.

    But, your for the Profits!

    All entities should Jump the hoops and prove that the BMP is good for enviroment and Economy.

    EIS is Nessessary for Protection.

    Im Proud of our Commissioners, and Conservationists monitoring our Ecosystem

    THIS is their Job.

    Friday, February 9 Report this

  • OlyGirl

    Thank you so much Thurston County Commissioners and Legacy Forest Defense Coalition (LFDC) for filing this important lawsuit. DNR's decision to cut the old growth trees is motivated by one thing: money. I encourage others to leave a comment and write letters to governing officials. And, is there a way to get this information on social media? I have not seen it on Facebook, X, Instagram, Tiktok.

    Saturday, February 10 Report this