Environmentalists Endorse Upthegrove for Lands Commissioner


The dense thicket of candidates for Commissioner of Public Lands experienced a breakout on Monday, as Washington Conservation Action delivered an early endorsement of Dave Upthegrove for the critical, low-profile state office.

Seeking an ally in managing forests and tidelands, the state’s environmental lobby opted for a King County Council member who lost to Hilary Franz eight years ago. Franz is seeking the seat in Congress of retiring U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-6.

“We strongly believe Dave Upthegrove is the candidate best positioned to win: He will work with the environmental-justice community on day one,” said WCA’s chief executive Alyssa Macy. “He will lead the evolution that DNR needs.” Upthegrove has already won backing from Peter Goldmark, who preceded Franz as the state’s chief land manager.

The Department of Natural Resources oversees 3 million acres of state trust land plus 2.6 million acres of state waterways and tidelands, and the revenues from logging, grazing, shellfish harvesting, and marinas. It is also the state’s chief firefighting agency.

The joke used to be that DNR stood for Department of Nothing Remaining, prompted by vast clearcuts under then-commissioner Bert Cole. The stripping of such watersheds as the Clearwater River on the Olympic Peninsula, and Sultan Basin in Snohomish County, became models of flawed, destructive forest management. The DNR has more recently gone green (somewhat) with such actions as a 1,600-acre preserve atop Blanchard Mountain in Whatcom County.

A pair of Land Commissioner hopefuls have raised apprehension among the state’s activist greens. Former U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler has given Republicans a viable and well-known candidate, one who criticized “onerous regulation” while in Congress.

In a recent interview with Shift Washington, Herrera Beutler said: “It’s too easy for my opponents to be guided by ideology rather than science. If their goal is to preserve our lands and protect our environment, locking up forests doesn’t work. It creates a critical load of debris and dead and dying trees, which eventually ignite into the massive wildfires we’ve seen over the past decade.”

Other worries center on moderate State Sen. Kevin Van De Wege, D-Sequim, who chairs the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Water, Natural Resources, and Parks. Van De Wege is a firefighter who represents much of the Olympic Peninsula. He is seen as more sympathetic to the timber industry.

In announcing his commissioner candidacy, Van De Wege said: “You might be saying I’ve been training for this job my entire life. For me the job of Public Lands Commissioner isn’t a steppingstone — it’s a destination.  I seek this position because I know our lands and I know our state, not because I plan to run for some other office down the road.”

Franz has raised the profile of the commissioner job. Climate change has contributed to a longer fire season and such conflagrations as the 256,108-acre Carlton Complex Fire in Okanogan County. Franz has pushed for added fire response. She has fought to end farming of Atlantic salmon in Washington’s inland waters.

Upthegrove served for 12 years in the Washington Legislature, chairing the House Environment Committee and the House Select Committee on Puget Sound. He helped launch the Puget Sound Partnership. He described Washington Conservation Action’s support as “a huge boost for my campaign” and said his goal in the job will be “moving with urgency to address the threats posed by climate change.”

Macy cited one other factor in the endorsement: “When elected Dave will make history as Washington’s first out LGBTQ statewide elected official.” She defined the commissioner’s job as standing up to “powerful interests, [with] focuses on environmental justice, managing resources for all the people and protecting people and nature as one.”

Other Upthegrove endorsers include U.S. Rep. Adam Smith and King County Executive Dow Constantine.

Joel Connelly
Joel Connelly
I worked for Seattle Post-Intelligencer from 1973 until it ceased print publication in 2009, and SeattlePI.com from 2009 to 6/30/2020. During that time, I wrote about 9 presidential races, 11 Canadian and British Columbia elections‎, four doomed WPPSS nuclear plants, six Washington wilderness battles, creation of two national Monuments (Hanford Reach and San Juan Islands), a 104 million acre Alaska Lands Act, plus the Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area.


  1. Rather than running on identity politics, Dave is actually running on the critical facts in this race that really come down to experience:

    “Upthegrove served for 12 years in the Washington Legislature, chairing the House Environment Committee and the House Select Committee on Puget Sound. He helped launch the Puget Sound Partnership.”

    Also, not mentioned here, but over on Paul Query’s Washington Observer news site: “Upthegrove’s win comes after the King County Superior Court ruled against the Department of Natural Resources in a class-action lawsuit advanced by influential environmental groups. The Center for Sustainable Economy, Save the Olympic Peninsula, and the Legacy Forest Defense Coalition sued the state agency over dubious climate calculus after DNR claimed the 100-acre “Wishbone Timber Sale” of carbon-rich legacy forestland in the Tolt and Snoqualmie River Basins would yield* “minor amounts of CO2 emissions from the direct proposal site.” Upthegrove and seven fellow county council members supported the plaintiffs and wrote a stern letter to the agency. Upthegrove has pledged to protect legacy forests such as those in northeast Seattle from the jump as lands commissioner.

    “Judge Kristin Ballinger called foul last week, writing in her ruling from Thursday that DNR made a “clearly erroneous” assessment of its timber harvests’ climate impact at the landscape level—not the project level. Meaning? It conflated all the carbon sequestration efforts of its other forest projects on the basis it would (hopefully) offset the impact of the Wishbone sale. ”


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