Land deals will protect Washington working forests

2013-05-10 Ashley Bach

Over the course of 24 hours this week, two forest land sales were announced that will protect Washington timberland from widespread development.

The sales come on the heels of an even larger forest land sale that was announced in southeast King County in March.

All three sales follow the same pattern: a nonprofit land trust or county government is buying the forest land or land rights from a timber company, and in turn, the nonprofit or local government is protecting the land from major development.

In the larger deal announced this week, the Columbia Land Trust is buying 2,330 acres near Mount St. Helens from Poulsbo's Pope Resources. Under the purchase, the land trust will maintain much of the land as working forests, while protecting sensitive habitat and potentially setting aside a few less sensitive parcels for development. Skamania County and state and federal leaders also worked on the deal.

The $5.7 million purchase is the second in a four-stage plan to conserve 20,000 acres around the Swift Reservoir and Pine Creek. The third stage will include the purchase of another 3,000 acres from Pope Resources.

"We are pleased to see the second phase of this innovative project move forward, and we are very optimistic about another state grant that will help us conserve an additional 3,074 acres under a conservation easement," said Jon Rose, president of Olympic Property Group, Pope Resources' real estate subsidiary.

As the Vancouver Columbian points out, "The effort began several years ago after controversy swirled around high-end developments in the area. Worried the trend would continue unchecked and harm a valuable landscape, advocates pushed for a solution."

In the second land deal this week, the Trust for Public Land will buy 216 acres on Squak Mountain near Issaquah from Eatonville's Erickson Logging and then resell it to King County. Erickson, which had planned to log the land, will be "made whole" in the deal, county leaders said. Unlike the other two deals, the land will not be maintained as working forests. 

Finally, the deal announced in March will protect 43,000 acres of the White River Forest near Enumclaw from development. The land is the largest piece of unprotected forest land left in King County. For $11 million, the county will buy development rights on the land from Hancock Timber Resource Group, which is based in Boston, and Hancock will continue to maintain the land as working forests. 

Hancock's CEO, Dan Christensen, said:

“We are pleased to move one step closer to our common goal of protecting the impressive White River property as a working forest in perpetuity....With the conservation of the White River forest, the Hancock Timber Resource Group’s Sensitive Lands program would surpass more than 470,000 acres protected globally. A significant part of that work has been accomplished right here in King County and we greatly respect the County’s ongoing efforts to conserve vital working forests.”

The Seattle Times said the deal is a win-win that crosses "county and partisan boundaries."

The county has a handy reference for the mind’s eye to imagine the scale of this latest agreement and what is protected for future generations: a forested landscape twice the size of Bellevue.

This extraordinary opportunity is praiseworthy now, but decades from now the foresight involved will dazzle grateful beneficiaries.