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Blanchard Mountain

Located south of Bellingham off Chuckanut Drive, Blanchard State Forest is a hugely popular recreation area visited by as many as 100,000 people from across the Puget Sound region each year.

Located south of Bellingham off Chuckanut Drive, Blanchard State Forest is a hugely popular recreation area visited by as many as 100,000 people from across the Puget Sound region each year. Unfortunately the core of this special area may be logged if state lawmakers don't fund an alternative.

August 2017 Update

Despite the lack of an approved state capital budget this past legislative session, we've received some optimistic news on Blanchard State Forest. 

With the state legislature adjourned, funds to save the core of this forest remain stalled despite agreement from Olympia on a compromise solution. The plan would fund alternative working forest lands and avoid logging in the cherished Blanchard core, home to important recreation opportunities and wildlife habitat. 

Thankfully, leaders at the Department of Natural Resources have committed to avoiding logging the core in the short term, and are working with stakeholders to ensure that the funding for alternatives is fully secured. More information is available in this article from the Skagit Valley Herald. We'll provide additional updates as they become available! 

A glider takes flight from Oyster Dome. Photo: Molly Doran
A glider takes flight from Oyster Dome. Photo: Molly Doran

Take Action to save Blanchard Mountain

To learn more about the Trust Land Transfer program proposed in the state House capital budget to prevent logging in the Blanchard core, please see this Q & A document.

Managed by the Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and encompassing Blanchard Mountain and popular Oyster Dome, the forest features prized hiking, horseback riding and mountain biking trails. In addition to Blanchard’s many trail users, visitors enjoy wildlife watching and families find a natural respite near the bustling I-5 corridor. 

State plans to log the entire Blanchard State Forest were met with great concern in the 2000s. A diverse group of stakeholders was convened to decide the future of the Forest. In late 2007, with support from the DNR and Commissioner of Public Lands, the group announced the Blanchard Forest Strategy agreement. The agreement was signed in January 2007. 

The collaborative agreement identified a 1,600-acre core zone that would be conserved for recreation and environmental qualities and would no longer be logged for state trust lands beneficiaries. However, to implement this part of the Strategy DNR needed funding to purchase replacement lands for the core zone.

To date, the Washington State House has passed a budget that includes the funding needed to protect Blanchard. But the state Senate has yet to support the agreement, and the 2017 legislative session is the last chance for funding before logging will begin. 

Hikers picnic on Blanchard Mountain. Photo: Molly Doran
Hikers picnic on Blanchard Mountain. Photo: Molly Doran

Where the Cascades touch the sea

The ultimate of green belts, Blanchard State Forest is a beloved and well-used place for recreation, respite, and exploration that separates the increasingly populated Skagit and Whatcom counties. More than 35,000 people visit Blanchard's 4,800 acres each year to ride horses, hang glide, hike, mountain bike and watch birds and other wildlife. Oyster Creek has a native run of salmon and sea run cutthroat trout.

Blanchard State Forest features popular hikes (including Oyster Dome and Blanchard Mountain) and mountain bike trails; scenic lakes and streams; salmon, trout, owls and woodpeckers; deer; mushrooms; and territorial views west to the San Juan Islands and east to Mount Baker and the Cascades. Patches of remnant old growth and stately, mature trees remain after nearly three generations of logging. 

Blanchard State Forest also provides important habitat connectivity as the only place in Washington where the Cascade Mountains meet the Salish Sea. Southernmost outpost of the Chuckanut Mountains, Blanchard Mountain, together with the Lake Whatcom watershed, helps connect the coast to the Cascades.

Blanchard Forest Strategy agreement

Salmon spawn in Blanchard. Photo Tom Wake

Blanchard State Forest is one of many valuable state trust lands–working forests managed by the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) for state trust lands beneficiaries. The DNR had planned to clearcut Blanchard, and many of us wanted to protect this cherished area. In 2006, the agency convened a group of diverse interests, including Conservation Northwest and Friends of Blanchard Mountain, to create a management plan for Blanchard's forests that could satisfy the needs of all with interests at stake. The result was the Blanchard Forest Strategy agreement.

This collaborative agreement recommended that a 1,600 acre core area be protected. This core protects most of the recreational resources such as the top of Blanchard including the Oyster Dome, trails, and lakes. The other two thirds of Blanchard will remain working forest. Meanwhile, to replace the core, the Strategies Group members would seek funding from the legislature to purchase nearby private forestland that is at risk of conversion to residential use. This will sustain the working land base for generating revenue for the Burlington-Edison School District and other specific trusts.

The Public Land Commissioner accepted the recommendations and the Washington State Legislature showed their support over the course of three legislative sessions by providing $5.5 million of the $12 million in appropriations necessary to fund the replacement land purchases. In 2016, Conservation Northwest and our partners on the Blanchard Strategies Group continued to work with the Governor and Legislature to ensure the fiscal needs of the Blanchard agreement are fulfilled.

As of May 2017, the state House capital budget fully funds Blanchard Mountain's protection through an already-existing program, the Trust Lands Transfer. This program, administered by the Department of Natural Resources, exchanges former timber lands for more economically viable land elsewhere. Through the Trust Lands Transfer, many parcels of land have been preserved once they cease to provide timber revenue. This is exciting news! But our work is not yet done. In order for Blanchard to receive the funding and protection it needs, the state Senate still has to approve the funding as well.

By providing funding through the Trust Lands Transfer program, the DNR will perform a land exchange involving trading the 1,600 acres of the Blanchard core with land of equal value in Skagit County. Through this exchange, the state also compensates the Common School Trust Fund, which benefits school districts all across the state.

A history of protecting Blanchard Forest

A decade ago, the chair of the Mount Baker Group of the Sierra Club, Randy Walcott, took up the cause of protecting Blanchard State Forest and Blanchard Mountain from ongoing logging. In December 1998, he formally petitioned the DNR requesting that Blanchard Mountain be declared a natural resource conservation area. The agency denied the petition, citing loyalties to the trust.

Hikers on a trail in Blanchard Forest
Hikers on a trail in Blanchard Forest

In 2001, Conservation Northwest joined Randy and others to protect Blanchard State Forest. Conservation Northwest's goal was twofold, safeguarding Blanchard in perpetuity as a functioning forest and leading a way to better management of our other valuable state trust lands.

In 2006, to break a long stalemate, the DNR convened a group of diverse interests, including representatives from Conservation Northwest and Friends of Blanchard Mountain, to create a collaborative forest management plan for Blanchard's forests. It was an opportunity for the Board of Natural Resources and DNR staff to work with citizens finding a proactive solution to protect this remarkable mountain and its forested trails and wildlife habitat.

In late 2006, this collaboration produced the Blanchard Forest Strategy agreement, protecting 1,600 acres of core, central habitat from logging while allowing continued logging on other parts of the forest under prevailing rules. That heart of Blanchard is 1,300 acres more than the DNR wanted to give up and 1,000 acres less than what conservationists had been fighting for. But the Blanchard agreement made up for that by finding unexpected common ground around the idea of working together to prevent the conversion of working forests to sprawl. The agreement was signed in January 2007. 

In 2010, Commissioner of Public Lands Peter Goldmark announced that the Department of Natural Resources intends to establish a Natural Resource Conservation Area (NRCA) at the core of Blanchard State Forest. NRCA designation protects “outstanding examples of native ecosystems, habitat for endangered, threatened and sensitive plants and animals, and scenic landscapes. 

In 2016, the State Legislature has previously supported the Blanchard agreement with $6.5 million in funding; however, an additional $7.7 million was needed to complete the purchases of core zone replacement lands.Without this funding, the Strategy is no longer implementable. DNR committed to implement the Strategy but is unable to do so without the remaining $7.7 million from the legislature. 

In 2017, the state House approves $10 million in appropriations in its capital budget bill to fund a Trust Land Transfer to preserve the Blanchard core from logging. But as of May 2017, the state Senate has yet to include similar support in its capital budget proposal. Without the state Senate's support, Blanchard is still at risk of being logged as early as summer 2017, with years of partnership and the shared vision for this forest lost. Please take action today!

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