Background on the Transfer Land Trust Program
In Washington state, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) manages more than three million acres of state trust land. Revenue generated by these trust lands—such as timber from working forests or leasing for agriculture grazing—enters a fund that supports K-12 schools, universities, capitol buildings, and state institutions, as well as essential services such as fire, EMT, ports, and libraries. As such, ensuring strong economic returns from trust lands has been and will always be the primary focus.
However, DNR also recognizes that state trust lands provide important habitat for fish and wildlife and are increasingly used for recreation and educational opportunities. To balance these different objectives, it can be beneficial to reclassify or reposition economically underperforming assets.
This is where the Transfer Land Trust (TLT) program comes in.
When it is determined that certain trust lands provide greater social and/or ecological benefit through non-revenue activities, the program compensates the trust for land converted from a revenue generation status to a conservation function by providing funding to purchase more economically profitable replacement lands elsewhere.
Since its inception in 1989, the TLT program has preserved more than 128,000 acres of state trust land for fish and wildlife habitat, recreation, education, and other community uses. Some of the state’s most treasured places—Mt. Si, Blanchard Mountain, and Deception Pass State Park—have benefitted from the TLT program. At the same time, DNR has also sustained and improved potential economic future returns. The legislature has historically shown strong support for this conservation tool, investing over $880 million in the TLT over 30 years.
Why WA Wild Submitted a Comment Letter Now
Each biennium, DNR identifies a list of trust lands as candidates for inclusion in the TLT program. Whether these lands enter the program is ultimately dependent upon funding approved by the legislature and governor.
For the upcoming 2023 capital budget, DNR is seeking $25 million to conserve over 7,000 acres, as well as implement much-needed improvements to the TLT program, as identified by DNR and community stakeholders. If fully funded, some of the proposed improvements such as more transparency, improved consultation with tribal governments, and an emphasis on addressing the needs of overburdened communities can be implemented.
Trust Land Transfer represents a significant investment in conservation, economic benefit, and public services—a rare win-win-win.
In support of the continued success of the TLT program, Washington Wild coordinated a letter of 68 conservation, recreation, and wildlife organizations, local businesses, and several of our Brewshed® Alliance Members to strongly urge Governor Inslee fully fund the TLT in the 2023 budget. Trust land transfer addresses many of Governor Inslee’s priority issues—including carbon sequestration, salmon and orca recovery, and outdoor recreation—and as such, deserves his full support. Keeping this program alive and functional is critical for the future of conservation in Washington.