The Gristle

The Pearl Surrounding the Oyster Dome

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

THE PEARL SURROUNDING THE OYSTER DOME: At a well-attended meeting in Mount Vernon last week, the healthy future of Blanchard Mountain began to take shape.

A proposed trust land swap would preserve the core of Blanchard State Forest trust lands—lands owned by the public and managed by the state Department of Natural Resources—by placing those acres in permanent conservation status while opening other lands in Skagit County to commercial forestry. If approved and completed,  the proposed trust land swap will exchange up to 860 acres that form the nucleus of the ecological and recreational pearl that is Blanchard Mountain with other land parcels in the county of equal value, so that state trust land timber revenue can continue to provide public services in Skagit and help fund schools statewide.

The two-part proposal would change the legal status of the Blanchard core of state forest trust lands for conservation, then use $10 million in state funding to acquire new loggable trust lands in Skagit County.

About 70 people attended the meeting, and the overwhelming majority of the comments were very favorable for the exchange and the continued conservation of Blanchard forest land, according to Bob Winslow, DNR’s manager for the trust land transfer project.

“The inter-trust exchange will position state trust land parcels for a future transfer into a natural area inside the ‘core’ area of Blanchard State Forest,” Winslow explained in his briefing. “If transferred, the land would be managed for recreation, natural resource conservation area, wildlife habitat, or open space uses.”

The Department of Natural Resources is responsible for logging state trust lands in order to provide revenue to various state and local beneficiaries, but the mandate to produce revenues is inreasingly in collision with preserving the ecological function of forests. We need healthy mature forests; and we need money for schools.

The transfer is a last step in a long journey.

“The story starts a century ago, when Blanchard was privately owned and logged,” relates Mitch Friedman, executive director of Conservation Northwest. “When the owner was delinquent in paying taxes, the clear-cut land reverted to Skagit County. Taxes on forest land were higher then, so this was common enough that counties ended up with tens of thousands of acres that they had no capacity to reforest and manage. The legislature gave these lands to the state to manage in trust for the counties and junior taxing districts. By the 1990s, the trees were big enough that the DNR proposed timber sales. But by then Blanchard had become a haven for hiking, horse riding, mountain biking and others who loved the mountain—not to mention habitat for birds and wildlife. A showdown ensued.”

In 2006, conservation groups and activists helped craft the Blanchard Forest Strategy agreement, identifying a 1,600-acre core zone that would be protected for recreation and environmental qualities and would no longer be logged for state trust lands beneficiaries. The idea of a land swap—preserving Blanchard’s core while opening new lands for timber harvests—was a novel one, and garnered the provisional support of the timber industry; however, to implement the Strategy DNR needed to purchase replacement timberlands to offset those in the core zone.

In 2008, the agency adopted a management plan for the state forest on Blanchard Mountain, designating the most stunning part of this recreation area as the core—the Samish Overlook, Oyster Dome, and backcountry camping areas at Lily and Lizard lakes. That core includes 15 miles of trails and gets about 100,000 visitors each year. The core and surrounding state forest lands total about 4,800 acres in a rare unbroken greenbelt that connects the Salish Sea to the foothills of the Cascades.

There the matter stood for a decade while the state’s bruised finances recovered from recession and the Legislature remained paralyzed by political gridlock.

In 2018, the last portion of the funding package was finally approved in a capital budget. Ten million dollars of that package can now go to the purchase and transfer of trust lands in Skagit County that provide revenues to schools—called common school trusts—and reassign those as trust lands that provide timber revenue to county and local taxing districts—called forest trusts.

Winslow said in providing the $10 million in the capital budget, the state Legislature recognized that the Blanchard core is better suited for conservation and recreation than for timber harvest.

“After the land transfers take place, DNR will administer the Blanchard core for conservation and recreation as outlined in the Blanchard Strategy Agreement,” Conservation Northwest noted in a press release. The Bellingham-based organization has played a central role in the long journey to preserve the best of Blanchard Mountain.

The solution could serve as a model for other transfers around the state intended to preserve environmentally or culturally important resource lands while allowing other public lands to continue to generate revenues for schools and other taxing districts.

“This collaborative agreement withstood so much unforeseeable challenge. Through it all the stakeholders held to their commitments and our elected champions remained supportive,” Friedman said. “We found the sweet spot that allowed outdoor recreationists, conservation groups, school trusts, elected leaders and the DNR to walk away happy.”

Every pearl starts with but a grain of sand and a little agitation as catalyst.

Past Columns
Trust Is Reciprocal

July 18, 2018

Pressure in the Bottle

July 11, 2018

Sharing the Pain

July 4, 2018

A Supreme Shifting

June 27, 2018

The Costs of Failure

June 6, 2018

Thumb on the Scales

May 30, 2018

Bungle in the Jungle?

May 23, 2018

Heating Up

May 16, 2018

Home Run

May 9, 2018

State of the County

May 2, 2018

Symptoms of Pain

April 25, 2018

A Last Ditch Effort

April 18, 2018

Much ADUs About Nothing

April 11, 2018

The Sin of Sinclair

April 4, 2018

All Thumbs on the Scale

March 28, 2018

The Boundaries Between Us

March 21, 2018

Dirty Deeds

March 7, 2018

Sunshine Storm

February 28, 2018

Events
Today
Boating Center Open

10:00am|Community Boating Center

Skagit Tours

10:00am|Highway 20

Bard on the Beach

12:00pm|Vanier Park

Northwest Raspberry Festival

10:00am|Lynden

Skagit Tours

10:00am|Highway 20

Sin & Gin Tours

7:00pm|Downtown Bellingham, historic Fairhaven

Summer of Blood

7:00pm|Rexville Grange Amphitheater

LOL-apalooza

9:00pm|Upfront Theatre

Raspberry Pancake Breakfast

7:00am|Lynden Community Center

Tour de Whatcom

7:30am|Boundary Bay Brewery

Ferndale Breakfast

8:00am|Ferndale Senior Center

Anacortes Farmers Market

9:00am|Depot Arts Center

Mount Vernon Farmers Market

9:00am|Riverwalk Park

Christmas in July Bazaar

9:00am|Bellingham Masonic Center

Twin Sisters Market

9:00am|Nugent's Corner, North Fork Library

Four Democrats seek election in the Skagit

9:00am

Primary Election Forum

9:30am|Bellingham High School

NW Art Beat Studio Tour

10:00am|Skagit County

Blaine Gardeners Market

10:00am|H Street Plaza

Skagit Tours

10:00am|Highway 20

Summer Seersucker Bicycle Ride

10:00am|Gilkey Square

Lynden Farmers Market

10:00am|Centennial Park

Lummi Island Saturday Market

10:00am|Islander Grocery Store

Bellingham Farmers Market

10:00am| Depot Market Square

Correspondence Club

10:30am|Mindport Exhibits

Downtown Market Walk

11:00am|Downtown Bellingham

Street Food Saturdays

11:00am|Zuanich Point Park

Show & Shine

11:00am|BelleWood Acres

Hot Ticket

11:00am|North Fork Library

Public Sail

12:00pm|Cap Sante Marina

The Nandia Trilogy

1:00pm|Barnes & Noble

Craftapalooza

1:00pm|Point Roberts Library

Concrete Saturday Market

1:00pm|Concrete Community Center

Field Games

1:00pm|VanderYacht Park

Wren and Della

1:00pm|Blaine Library

Lynden Cemetery Tour

1:00pm|Lynden Cemetery

State Street History Tour

1:30pm|Depot Market Square

The Secret Garden

3:00pm|Mount Baker Theatre

Ferndale Uncorked and Uncapped

3:00pm|Centennial Riverwalk Park

Nooksack River Walk

3:00pm|Horseshoe Bend Trailhead

Whatcom Democrats Country Picnic

4:00pm|Hovander Homestead Park

Seafood Boil

5:30pm|Semiahmoo Resort

Seafood Boil

5:30pm|Semiahmoo Resort

Feast and Frolic

5:30pm|Viva Farms

Saturday Seafood Boil

5:30pm|Semiahmoo Resort

Music at Maritime

6:00pm|Maritime Heritage Park

Austin Jenckes

7:00pm|Eagle Haven Winery

Bellingham Youth Jazz Band

7:00pm|Bellingham Senior Activity Center

Sin & Gin Tours

7:00pm|Downtown Bellingham, historic Fairhaven

Nelson Mandela Tribute Concert

7:30pm|Bellingham Unitarian Fellowship

Bebel Gilberto

7:30pm| Lincoln Theatre

Gerrymandering Update

7:30pm|Island Library

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Tomorrow
Boating Center Open

10:00am|Community Boating Center

Skagit Tours

10:00am|Highway 20

Bard on the Beach

12:00pm|Vanier Park

Skagit Tours

10:00am|Highway 20

Summer of Blood

7:00pm|Rexville Grange Amphitheater

Skagit Tours

10:00am|Highway 20

NW Art Beat Studio Tour

10:00am|Skagit County

Sin & Gin Tours

7:00pm|Downtown Bellingham, historic Fairhaven

Rabbit Ride

8:00am|Fairhaven Bicycle

Vietnam Veterans Car Show

10:00am|Barkley Village

Edison Farmers Market

10:00am|Edison Granary

Skagit Tours

10:00am|Highway 20

Langar in Lynden

11:00am|Guru Nanak Gursikh Gurdwara

La Conner Live!

1:00pm|Gilkey Square

Skulls and Skins

1:00pm|Tennant Lake

Mosaic Stepping Stone Workshop

1:00pm|Chuckanut Center

Audubon at the Museum

1:30pm|Whatcom Museum's Old City Hall

Fiddlin' Fox Summer Concerts

2:00pm|Fairhaven Village Green

Trivia Time

3:30pm|Boundary Bay Brewery

Trivia Time

3:30pm|Boundary Bay Brewery

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Monday
Skagit Tours

10:00am|Highway 20

Boating Center Open

10:00am|Community Boating Center

Bard on the Beach

12:00pm|Vanier Park

Skagit Tours

10:00am|Highway 20

Skagit Tours

10:00am|Highway 20

Skagit Tours

10:00am|Highway 20

Skagit Tours

10:00am|Highway 20

Rainbow Reads

12:00pm|Ferndale Library

Plant Diagnostic Clinics

5:00pm|Bellingham Public Library

Paddling Whatcom County

6:00pm|REI

Cuban Salsa

6:00pm|Bell Tower Studios

Books on Tap Two

6:30pm|Tino's Pizza & Pasta Co.

Guffawingham

9:00pm|Firefly Lounge

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