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
‘I Have A Dream’

January 15, 2020

Olympia Olympics

January 8, 2020

What Dreams May Come

January 1, 2020

Alt-America

December 25, 2019

Missing Middle

December 18, 2019

War Waged on Two Fronts

December 11, 2019

Work Horse, Not Show Horse

December 4, 2019

Toward A Housing Summit

November 27, 2019

Dueling Data

November 20, 2019

Of Apples and Barrels

November 13, 2019

Hide the Money

October 30, 2019

Anchors Are Weighed

October 23, 2019

A Working Waterfront?

October 15, 2019

Keep Working

October 9, 2019

Signs of Hate

October 2, 2019

Trust Gap

September 25, 2019

Netse Mot

September 18, 2019

A Rising Tide

September 11, 2019

The Power of Change

September 4, 2019

Hands Against Hate

August 28, 2019

Events
Today
A Forest of Words Poetry Competition

10:00am|Whatcom County

Deep Forest Experience

11:00am|Rockport State Park

Paddling With Spirits

6:00pm

The Curious Savage

7:00pm|Alger Community Church

Beauty and the Beast

7:00pm|BAAY Theater

Contest of Crowns

7:30pm|ACT Annex

The Revolutionists

7:30pm|Sylvia Center for the Arts

Space Trek

7:30pm|Upfront Theatre

Pancake Breakfast

8:00am|Ferndale Senior Center

Martin Luther King, Jr. Human Rights Conference

8:30am|Whatcom Community College

WNPS Field Trip

9:00am|Larrabee Park

Gluten- and Dairy-Free Cooking

10:00am|Blaine Library

Skagit Eagle Festival

10:00am

Winter Farmers Market

10:00am|Depot Market Square

Your Life is a Story Writers Group

10:30am|South Whatcom Library

Deep Forest Experience

11:00am|Rockport State Park

Womxn's March

11:00am|Bellingham City Hall

Propagating Perennials

11:00am|Christianson's Nursery

Seed Swap, Barter Fair and Skillshare

12:00pm|Bellingham Unitarian Fellowship

Camera Unobscura Workshop

1:00pm|Whatcom Museum's Lightcatcher Building

More than a label

2:00pm

Bird Smarts

2:00pm|Everson Library

Discovering Sherry Tasting

2:00pm| Seifert & Jones Wine Merchants

Rising Above the Pain

4:00pm|Village Books

Sunrise Night of Music

6:00pm|Maple Hall

Blue Abode Comedy Showcase

7:00pm|Blue Abode Bar

Patsy Cline Tribute Concert

7:00pm|Magnolia Grill Hall

Hot Club of Troy

7:00pm|Walton Theatre

Whatcom Wind Ensemble Winter Concert

7:00pm|Performing Arts Center Concert Hall

Space Trek

7:30pm|Upfront Theatre

Salsa Night

9:30pm|Cafe Rumba

Tomorrow
A Forest of Words Poetry Competition

10:00am|Whatcom County

Deep Forest Experience

11:00am|Rockport State Park

Beauty and the Beast

7:00pm|BAAY Theater

The Curious Savage

7:00pm|Alger Community Church

Skagit Eagle Festival

10:00am

Deep Forest Experience

11:00am|Rockport State Park

Space Trek

7:30pm|Upfront Theatre

Sedro-Woolley Community Breakfast

8:00am|American Legion Post #43

Skagit Eagle Festival

10:00am

Deep Forest Experience

11:00am|Rockport State Park

Langar in Lynden

11:00am| Guru Nanak Gursikh Gurdwara

Birding for Kids

2:30pm

An American in Paris

7:30pm|Mount Baker Theatre

An American in Paris

7:30pm

Monday
Deep Forest Experience

11:00am|Rockport State Park

Skagit Eagle Festival

10:00am

Deep Forest Experience

11:00am|Rockport State Park

Birding for Kids

2:30pm

MLK Day Work Party

9:00am|Barr Creek

MLK Day of Service Work Party

10:00am|Whatcom Creek

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Read-In

10:00am|Village Books

Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Celebration

12:00pm|Mount Baker Theatre

Teen Art Club

3:00pm|Blaine Library

Community Soup Kitchen

6:00pm|Little Cheerful Cafe

Cider U

6:30pm|Thousand Acre Cider House

Poetrynight

7:00pm|Alternative Library

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day event

7:00pm|Bellingham Unitarian Fellowship

Guffawingham

9:00pm|Firefly Lounge

see our complete calendar »