Description: Lawsuit alleging that Washington State's management of public lands granted to the State violated the Washington Constitution's mandate that granted lands be "held in trust for all the people."
Conservation Northwest v. Commissioner of Public Lands
Filing Date Type File Action Taken Summary 07/21/2022 Opinion Download Dismissal of case affirmed on alternative grounds. Washington Supreme Court Rejected Conservation Groups’ Challenge to State’s Management of Granted Public Lands. The Washington Supreme Court rejected conservation groups’ claims that the land management strategies of the Commissioner of Public Lands, Washington State Department of Natural Resources, and Board of Natural Resources (together, DNR) violated the Washington Constitution’s mandate that all public lands granted to State be “held in trusts for all the people.” The case concerned lands granted to Washington by the federal Omnibus Enabling Act of 1889, which granted hundreds of thousands of acres to the State “for the support of common schools” and other State institutions, and lands granted to the State by individual counties to be held in trust for the benefit of those counties. The conservation groups argued that DNR’s strategies “prioritize maximizing revenue from timber harvests and undercut its obligation to manage granted lands for the broader public interest, which would be better served by prioritizing conservation and efforts to mitigate climate change, wildfires, and land erosion.” The Supreme Court found that the Washington Constitution’s mandate that granted lands be held in trust “does not preclude DNR from exercising its discretion to generate revenue from timber harvests on granted lands.” The court noted that “revenue from timber harvests helps boost local economies and maintain state institutions” and that because the general population of Washington “stands to gain” from this stability, DNR’s land management strategies did not violate the Washington Constitution. The court further found that that DNR’s strategies were not arbitrary and capricious.