Trust Land Transfer

When Washington became a state, the federal government gave the new state millions of acres to support public institutions.  The timber revenue from this “trust land” (mostly forests) provides funding for schools, county services such as libraries, and state building projects. However, some of these lands are more valuable intact than for their timber, and they need our help to save their forests from clearcutting.

Several state trust lands qualify for full “Wilderness” protection, but the Wilderness Act only applies to federal land. So conservationists like N3C have been working to transfer wild state trust lands into permanent wilderness-equivalent protection called “Natural Resource Conservation Areas” (NRCAs). Places like Ashland Lakes:

These places are both gorgeous wilderness in their own right and prime recreational lands for hikers and backpackers. In order to transfer them into protected status, the value of the land and the timber on it must be paid back to the state through a process called Trust Land Transfer (TLT). TLT is a little-known state program within the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) but is has saved over 125,000 acres since its inception in 1989.

One of the most impressive state “wilderness” areas is the Morning Star NRCA. It’s 38,000 acres features protection for the Spada Lake watershed (Everett’s drinking water supply) and incredible recreation in areas like Gothic Basin. The legislature has an opportunity to add to this NRCA in 2021 and N3C is leading the effort to ensure there is a robust TLT program now and into the future.

Importantly, the trust land transfer program provides a significant financial benefit to the state. Because these lands often provide habitat for endangered species such as the northern spotted owl and marbled murrelet, the state finds it difficult to log them. TLT takes them off out of logging status and replaces them with land more suitable for revenue production. By strengthening its assets, TLT improves the financial position of the state. Furthermore, low interest rates mean its never been cheaper for the state to make significant capital investments.

However, we must take action. The consequences of not doing so are too great!

Unprotected state-owned forest lands are subject to periodic logging

This scene is just outside an NRCA

NCCC Goals:

  • A strong trust land transfer program
  • Funding for the Morning Star TLT project
  • Protection for land along the Cascade River

What you can do to help
Like all public programs, TLT will only exist as long as it receives strong public support.

If you are a Washington resident, please write state leaders and ask that s/he support the robust funding for DNR trust land transfer program, especially the Morning Star and Cascade River projects.  While much of the news is disheartening concerning our wild areas these days, here we still have a chance to move protection forward on the state-level by supporting the DNR’s excellent efforts to create a state system of ecologically critical areas.

Please write to state policymakers at the addresses below:

State Legislators:

DNR’s Commissioner of Public Lands, Hilary Franz:

Gov. Inslee:


Map of proposed Morningstar NRCA additions

A general area map of Morningstar NRCA

Area map of Cascade River showing TLT proposal