State programs could expand local forest conservation areas

October 1, 2008

By Staff

The West Tiger Mountain Natural Resource Conservation Area could expand by 157 acres under a land trust exchange program under consideration by the Washington Department of Natural Resources.

Also under consideration is expanding the Mount Si Natural Resource Conservation Area by as much as one-third and the addition of 840 acres to the Charley Creek Natural Area Preserve.

DNR representatives held a public hearing Sept. 25 at the North Bend Railroad Depot to outline details of the proposal.

The land trust program is funded by the state Legislature, which purchases land for a number of trusts; the value of timber harvesting on the property goes into the Common School Construction Account.

Over the course of the program, more than 90,000 acres of land, valued at nearly $648 million have been purchased for the various trusts.

According to DNR officials, the land trust transfers under consideration will not only expand the three nature areas, but will also move toward consolidating a number of separate trust areas into larger blocks of land that will give each greater control over the trust lands.

The Mount Si area, for example, is currently 9,522 acres in size. Of the proposed 3,004-acre expansion area, however, only 1,465 acres falls within the jurisdiction of the Common School Trust. An additional 863 acres is under control of the State Forest Transfer Trust; 356 acres is controlled by the Charitable, Educational, Penal and Reformatory Institutions Trust; and 320 acres is controlled by the Capitol Buildings Trust.

By undertaking the land swap, all of the lands controlled by trusts other than the Common Schools will be swapped out with other land trust areas, which have been assessed and found to be of comparable value in terms of timber and logging potential, to allow the Common Schools Trust to obtain ownership of the complete Mount Si area properties.

In the case of Tiger Mountain, 149 acres are controlled by the State Forest Transfer Fund; 7 acres by the Scientific School Trust; and 1 acre by the Capital Building Trust.

In the Charley Creek trust, about one-half of the proposed increase in acreage – 392 acres – is controlled by the Common Schools Trust; the other half is split between four other state-controlled trust groups.

In most cases, the lands transferred to one another are in the same general proximity, but by restructuring the plots, it allows for the Common Schools Trust to have direct control over the entire site in question. By linking properties controlled by the various other trusts, each will also grow in both size and control under the terms of the transfers.

The Mount Si area, originally designated in 1987, is vital because of its mature old growth forest conditions, according to Kelly Heintz, natural areas manager for DFR.

Heintz said Mount Si contains mostly Douglas fir growth, “but there are wonderful rock outcroppings and wildlife as well,” she said.

Low-impact public access, namely hiking, would be allowed in the expanded area, she said.

West Tiger Mountain contains 4,300 acres, including low-elevation old-growth Douglas fir forests, which Heintz said are very rare for the region. The 157-acre expansion area includes mature – 100 years old or older – forestland.

Unlike Tiger Mountain and Mount Si, much of the Charley Creek transfer involves land that has no current public access as it is part of the Tacoma watershed. The expansion land does include, however, “mature forests with old-growth characteristics, which is what we’re interested in trying to preserve,” Heintz said.

Rick McGuire, of the Alpine Lakes Protection Society, was the only member of the public to speak at the hearing.

The expansions, McGuire said, represent “the tremendous strides that have been made over the last couple of decades,” and would go far to “cleaning up and taking back” the Middle Fork of the Snoqualmie River.

Reach Reporter Ed Farrell at 392-6434, ext. 248, or efarrell@isspress.com.

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