Oyster Dome and Blanchard Mountain still need your help
Conservation Northwest / Feb 29, 2016 / Blanchard Mountain
By Mitch Friedman, Executive Director
What you’ve heard is true about the risk of logging around Oyster Dome, in the Blanchard State Forest near Bellingham. The Department of Natural Resources is in the early stage of planning a timber sale that, unless the State Legislature comes up with $7.7 million, will mean trees falling probably in the summer of 2017.
You are right to be concerned, but I hope you will also be motivated and active. With your help we can permanently protect this area.
In Olympia last week, the House and Senate both passed Capital Budget bills that I had hoped would include at least some of the funds needed for Blanchard. Thousands of people had rallied to the cause, emailing and phoning their legislators. But while we did get $2 million in 2015, none has been added this year.
That’s more disappointing than surprising given how the legislature operates. We knew the real action would be in the 2017 session of the state legislature a year from now, and that’s what we must prepare for.
Surprisingly, there is no enemy here. Everybody is working together to prevent the logging. This is a big change from 15 years ago, when the DNR was planning to log in the popular recreation and natural area that is the heart of Blanchard Mountain. Conservation and recreation groups were furiously fighting the logging proposal, while timber interests were joined by Skagit County, the Burlington Edison School District, and others to push for logging. This is because Blanchard State Forest is set up as a trust, so that the revenues from logging go to local schools and other needs. This century-old policy may not be how we’d do it today, but it remains a vital source of school funding in our state.
Blanchard Forest Strategy agreement protects core area
In 2006, the state’s then-Commissioner of Public Lands, Doug Sutherland, asked me, along with leaders of other stakeholders, to try to find a solution. It took us over a year of monthly all-day meetings to reach an agreement, the Blanchard Forest Strategy, to protect the “core” 1,600 acres of the 4,500 acre forest. DNR estimated the value of the trees on those 1,600 acres at $12.5 million, and we agreed to give ourselves five years to get those funds. A key provision that made the agreement possible was that the money wouldn’t go directly to the trusts, but instead would go to DNR to buy more forest land that would otherwise be at risk of converting from timber uses to residential development.
Under this historic agreement, the unique natural, recreation and scenic values of the Blanchard core were recognized, schools and other trusts were to be kept whole, and the products and jobs associated with the timber industry were to be promoted against the onslaught of urban sprawl. There was broad excitement about this agreement, both in its own right and as a model for further collaboration.
We had good success in the legislature at first, getting $5.5 million in 2008. It’s possible we could have gotten more or even all the funds that year. But there was a lawsuit that made the agreement a bit uncertain, so legislators wouldn’t fully commit. By the time that lawsuit died, the great recession had hit and the state budget went into freefall. Still, we got $2 million more in 2009 and have gone back every year since, with environmental, timber and school interests arm-in-arm, to ask for more.
In 2010, Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark designated the Blanchard core as a Natural Resource Conservation Area, pending full funding to conserve the area under the agreement. Then, when our original five-year agreement expired in 2012, the partners agreed to extend it through 2015. When that expired, the partners agreed to extend it again to mid-2017, but only if the price was increased to account for growth of the value of the timber. While the state’s economy and therefore budgets have been recovering during this period, the legislature has had to address the McCleary Decision on the crisis in school funding. All of which leaves us with less than a year and a half, which means one more session of the legislature, to secure $7.7 million more. If we fall short, the DNR must sell timber from the core to make up the difference.
Oyster Dome and Blanchard Mountain are loved by tens of thousands. It’s the only place where the Cascade Mountains meet the Salish Sea. Where you can stand among century-old trees and have a commanding view of the San Juan Islands and Puget Sound. It’s habitat for marbled murrelets and rare bats. You can see its majesty from the islands or the North Cascades, and it’s part of what makes that stretch of both Chuckanut Drive and I-5 exhilarating. Every day people from Bellingham to Seattle and beyond hike, bike, and horseback ride its exceptional trails.
We can do this, people!
Fortunately, Blanchard is part of the 40th Legislative District. Senator Kevin Ranker and Representatives Kris Lytton and Jeff Morris are all fully committed to our success and sit in leadership positions. Senator Kirk Pearson, a Republican who represents eastern Skagit County, is the powerful chair of the Senate Natural Resources Committee and also is fully committed to our success.
Other key players are Governor Inslee and the leadership of the capital budget committees in the House (Chair Steve Tharinger of Jefferson County, Vice Chair Derek Stanford, and Ranking Minority Member Richard DeBolt) and Senate (Chair Jim Honeyford of Yakima, Assistant Ranking Member Karen Keiser).
Our job is to both love Blanchard Mountain and to make the case for it. So share this blog, tell your friends and family, visit Oyster Dome and Blanchard, and most of all, keep contacting each of the government leaders I just named. In this way, what we’ll experience on Blanchard in the summer of 2017 won’t be a clearcut, but will be a party.