Plum Creek, Pope Resources lead the way on land conservation


Two major land deals that will preserve working forests in Washington moved forward in the last few days, and Washington timber companies are at the heart of both transactions.

Plum Creek Timber Co.’s sale of 48,000 acres of forestland along Interstate 90 in Washington (as well as 117,000 acres in the Blackfoot River Valley in Montana) just became final last week. (We first wrote about the deal last month.) The Nature Conservancy takes over both the Washington and Montana land, which the group says it will still use, at least in part, for timber production.

James Schroeder, director of conservation for the Nature Conservancy, told the Kittitas County Public Lands Advisory Committee on Monday that there will be a series of public meetings regarding the use of the land and recreation access, with the first expected to be scheduled for February.

“We want to get people’s input on developing our management and recreation plan moving forward,” Schroeder said.

The goal is to have a recreation and land-use management plan in place by June or July, so the Nature Conservancy can apply for timber harvest permits. It plans to do both commercial and noncommercial harvests.

“We’ve projected out 10 years annual harvest and we are hoping we can make it pencil out,” Schroeder said. “We’re not looking at this as a moneymaker. We’d put money back into restoration if it does pencil out.”

If you’d like to tell the Nature Conservancy your ideas for how the land should be used, or to receive updates, fill out this form online.

In the second deal, announced this week, Poulsbo’s Pope Resources is selling development rights to 3,095 acres of forestland near Mount St. Helens to Columbia Land Trust, a Vancouver conservation group. The vast majority of the land (2,885 acres) will stay in active forestry.

The transaction is the third of a four-stage deal that will eventually protect 20,000 acres of forestland near Swift Reservoir in Skamania County from development. (We wrote about the second stage, Pope’s sale of 2,330 acres to Columbia Land Trust, last year.)

“This landmark project shows what can be achieved when a timber company, a conservation group and public leaders put their heads together to find lasting conservation solutions that benefit both people and nature,” Columbia Land Trust Executive Director Glenn Lamb said in a released statement.

For Skamania County, which is enduring a financial crisis because of the lack of active management of the county’s federal forests, the four-stage conservation project is good news because it keeps working forests working.

The project has been generally welcomed by leaders in Skamania County, which depends more heavily on timber revenue than other counties. About 80 percent of the county is federally owned — most of that in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest — and another 10 percent is private timberland.

“We do support it because it keeps it in a working forest capacity, where at some point in time it does pay (taxes),” said Skamania County Commissioner Chris Brong.

The conservation plan is an inspiring partnership between local government, a conservation group and a timber company.

The effort began several years ago after controversy swirled around housing developments popping up on privately owned forests in the area. Columbia Land Trust began working with Skamania County and Pope Resources, the county’s largest private landowner, around 2006. The goal was a pragmatic solution, said Jon Rose, president of Olympic Property Group, Pope Resources’ real estate subsidiary.

“Rather than viewing conservation, forestry and development as competing interests, the partners’ goal was to achieve a balance of these interests with a special emphasis on the long-term maintenance of working forests,” Rose said in a released statement.