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Legacy Forests:
Our Best Carbon Workhorses

Washington holds one of the world’s most powerful climate tools right here in our state-owned forests: 77,000 acres of older, diverse, carbon-dense forests, many close to a hundred years old. These older, structurally complex forests are among the very best in the world at carbon storage and sequestration. 

These local giant conifer forests store more carbon per acre than any other forest type, almost twice as much as tropical rainforests. 


What Is A
"Legacy" Forest?

Legacy Forests are structurally complex, mature forests. They were often logged prior to 1945, after which began the widespread use of clearcutting with chainsaws, herbicides, and replanting as monocrops. They are critical for biodiversity, water quality, and salmon habitat. They store and sequester vast amounts of carbon at rates unequaled in the world. They are natural forests, not tree plantations, and as such they are more resistant to wildfire.

To classify as a Legacy Forest, these forests generally have the following characteristics:

  • Pre-1945 origin

  • Un-planted, naturally regenerated

  • Structurally complex (different stages of life cycle)

  • Genetically & biologically diverse

  • If protected, legacy forests will become Old Growth

What Is A Legacy Forest
Forest Path
Image by Ray Hennessy

How Did Legacy Forests
Come to Be?

Legacy forests are developed through a process called forest succession. When a forest is disturbed by an event, such as a wildfire, landslide, or by logging, the area is initially dominated by pioneering plant species that can tolerate harsh conditions.


Over time, as these species create soil and provide shade and shelter, they create conditions for other, more shade-tolerant species to grow. This process continues over many decades and even centuries, with different species and forest types dominating at different stages.


Eventually, a forest develops mature characteristics, with a complex structure, a diverse understory, and a stable ecosystem. These legacy forests are characterized by the presence of large, mature trees, and a complex web of ecological interactions. They are often home to a wide variety of plant and animal species, many of which are threatened or endangered. It is important to protect and preserve these legacy forests for their ecological, cultural, and economic values.

How do legacy forests form
Image by Massimiliano Morosinotto

Where Are Legacy Forests?

Legacy forests are located throughout Western Washington.  Some examples of legacy forests in WA include parts of Capitol State Forest and the Elwha Watershed, as well as many other forests in these lowland areas.


These forests are home to a wide variety of plant and animal species, and they play an important role in protecting the region's climate, water supply, and air quality. Importantly, many of the unprotected legacy forests reside within critical watersheds. 


 Protecting and preserving these forests is crucial for maintaining the health and well-being of both the ecosystem and the communities that depend on them.

Check out the CRF map and find legacy forests in your area!

Where are legacy forests

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