Conservation Northwest v. Commissioner of Public Lands (Majority)Annotate this Case
The issue this case presented for the Washington Supreme Court's review centered on the Department of Natural Resources' ("DNR") land management strategies applicable to certain federal land grants (“state lands”) and county land grants (“forest board lands”), which involves harvesting timber from these lands to generate revenue for state institutions and counties. The petitioners, a group of individuals and nonprofit organizations (collectively Conservation NW), challenged DNR’s land management strategies on the grounds they violated the mandate under Washington Constitution article XVI, section 1 that “[a]ll the public lands granted to the state are held in trust for all the people.” Conservation NW argued DNR’s strategies prioritized maximizing revenue from timber harvests and undercut its obligation to manage granted lands for the broader public interest, which would have been better served by prioritizing conservation and efforts to mitigate climate change, wildfires, and land erosion. DNR contended it had a trustee obligation to manage the state and forest board lands specifically for the state institutions enumerated in the Enabling Act and the county beneficiaries. DNR acknowledged its land management strategies generated revenue but not “at the expense of forest health.” The trial court dismissed Conservation NW’s lawsuit against DNR pursuant to County of Skamania v. Washington, 685 P.2d 576 (1984), establishing DNR as a trustee under the Enabling Act. The Supreme Court affirmed the trial court's dismissal of the case.