The Washington State Department of Natural Resources will add nearly 400 acres of forest to its public lands portfolio after the Board of Natural Resources approved a 27-parcel exchange during its meeting Tuesday morning.

DNR will receive 1,395 acres of land from Merrill & Ring in Jefferson and Clallam counties spread across 19 parcels, each of which abuts land DNR already manages to generate money for schools and critical county services. In exchange, DNR will transfer 1,001 acres to Merrill & Ring across eight isolated parcels. Each side’s lands appraised for approximately $5.5 million.

“By moving state lands into bigger blocks, they can provide more meaningful habitat opportunities for wildlife, while also being more easily managed to provide timber and revenue in our Olympic Peninsula communities,” said Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz, the elected official who oversees DNR. “This exchange is the fruit of years of hard work by my staff and our partners at Merrill & Ring, and is a fair trade we can all be proud of.”

“The groundwork of this exchange is something that Merrill & Ring and DNR have been working on for more than two decades, and this huge feat results in a well-balanced trade that benefits both public and private lands,” said Nicole Kimzey, COO of Merrill & Ring. “Blocking up these large ownership areas allows for ease of management across the landscape, increasing the environmental, economic, and social values they provide across the Olympic Peninsula.”

The transaction both grows the amount of forestlands DNR manages and makes the lands easier to manage – both for habitat and for revenue for schools, counties, and critical services – by consolidating them into larger blocks.

The lands DNR is acquiring in this transactions are closer to local mills and deep-water ports, increasing the value of the timber on the landscape going forward. Some of the DNR-acquired lands were also at risk of being converted to homesites from forestry, but will instead be maintained as working forests for the foreseeable future.

For decades, DNR has worked to continue acquiring forestlands across the state to support schools and counties. Since 1980, the department has added more than 100,000 acres of forestland to public ownership through its transactions program.

The Board approved two other land transactions during its meeting as well.

In the second transaction, DNR will purchase 40 acres of forestland northeast of Monroe in Snohomish County.

The $145,000 purchase from Weyerhaeuser Co. is adjacent to state trust lands on three sides, and already has access from DNR-managed forest roads. The parcel has a mix of Douglas-fir and red alder growing on it.

The newly acquired working forestland will benefit the Capitol Building Trust, which are managed to produce money for state buildings on the Capitol Campus in Olympia.

In the third transaction, DNR is exchanging 2,198 acres of state trust land near the Malaga area in Chelan County for 2,205 acres owned by Ravenwing Ranch LLC. DNR and Ravenwing’s properties were intermingled before. This exchange will consolidate both landowners’ parcels into contiguous ownership, making them more efficient to manage. The land is adjacent to the DNR-managed Upper Dry Gulch Natural Area Preserve, which protects much of the range of Whited’s milk-vetch, a flower only found in this area.

“This transaction allows DNR to safeguard a rare and unique plant species while investing in a more sustainable future,” said Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz, the elected official who oversees DNR. “We strive to ensure that state lands can best support our beneficiaries – schools, counties, and critical services across Washington state. Through this exchange, we will be able to do that while preserving this unique plant habitat.”

Astragalus sinuatus, commonly referred to as Whited’s milk-vetch, is endemic to Washington. Currently classified as state endangered and a federal species of concern, the flowering perennial can only be found within a 10-square-mile area near Malaga, an unincorporated town east of Wenatchee in Chelan County. The Upper Dry Gulch Natural Area Preserve protects the largest population of Whited’s milkvetch, as well as many other native species.

This transaction not only consolidates trust lands to facilitate more meaningful and effective conservation, but it also provides better access to trust lands. Enhanced access makes the lands easier to manage and creates potential for future expansion of the Upper Dry Gulch Natural Area Preserve.

The Board of Natural Resources has met remotely for the past two monthly meetings as part of DNR’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, as authorized by Gov. Jay Inslee’s Proclamation 20-28.