Squak Mountain timber plan concerns conservationists, neighbors
February 8, 2013
By Warren Kagarise
NEW — 12:05 p.m. Feb. 8, 2013
High on Squak Mountain, pink plastic strips tied to trees mark 216 acres of forest as a timber harvest area.
Since a timber company purchased the forest and started the process to permit logging on the site, conservationists and nearby residents mobilized to fight the proposal to clear cut the land. The logging opponents said cutting trees on the land could lead to more flooding downhill, damage sensitive fish and wildlife habitat, and add a timber harvest site near conservation lands.
The proposal from Eatonville-based Erickson Logging to harvest timber on 216 acres on the mountainside above Renton-Issaquah Road Southeast galvanized residents on Squak Mountain and near May Creek, a destination for runoff from the mountain.
The land, in unincorporated King County, is about a mile southwest of Issaquah city limits along Renton-Issaquah Road Southeast. The site includes four parcels in the former Issaquah Highlands Camping Club and, uphill, a 103-acre triangular parcel once owned by AmericanWest Bank.
(The former camping club is not affiliated with the Issaquah Highlands urban village or highlands developer Port Blakely Communities.)
People familiar with the sale said Erickson Logging purchased the parcels for about $2 million late last year.
Kurt Erickson, Erickson Logging founder and owner, did not respond to requests for comment.
In January, residents and the Issaquah Alps Trails Club launched a campaign, called Save Squak, to attract attention to the logging plan and encourage the timber company and King County to set aside the land for preservation.
David Kappler, Issaquah Alps Trails Club president and a former Issaquah city councilman, is leading the effort through the trails club to organize residents and lobby public officials to purchase the land for conservation.
Throughout the years, trails club members spearheaded successful efforts to set aside areas on Cougar, Squak and Tiger mountains for conservation and recreation.
The logging opponents said a timber harvest on the site could eliminate century-old trees and increase runoff into May Creek, a flood-prone creek stretching through the May Valley area south of Issaquah, between the East Renton Highlands and Newcastle.
May Creek often floods and puts homes at risk. Residents in the creek basin said more water to pour into the creek during rainstorms, because development in recent decades has reduced the amount of water soaking into the ground and increased the amount of silt in the stream.
“It’s a big part of the mountain that drains into May Creek,” Kappler said. “This area is the main headwaters of the creek that comes from a heavily forested, undeveloped area. The rest of May Creek has headwaters that are in developed areas.”
On the mountain, rainwater filters through trees and organic material and into the forest floor, rather than all rushing into the creek.
“It’s definitely a real high-quality source of water for May Creek,” Kappler said. “It’s cold, because it’s forested and the water tends to be colder, which is really good in the summer, because cooler water holds more oxygen. There are definite advantages to that.”
The potential impact to fish and wildlife is another source of concern for logging opponents. Kappler and others said increased water flow and soil erosion following deforestation could damage May Creek habitat for salmon and other fish.
Homeowners in the High Valley area on Squak Mountain near the proposed timber harvest site said the area is a haven for birds and large mammals, including black bears, bobcats and cougars. In 2008, a King County biodiversity report indicated the presence of rare tailed frogs in the same area.
“We hope that the logger who now owns this land will work with King County and other entities to preserve, in its wild state, all of this acreage or at least the upper triangle where we see the best habitat and hiking potential,” High Valley resident Cathy Brandt said in a statement. “With King County increasingly losing wild open spaces, it is more important than ever to retain what we have. Since this area is so close to our cities, it can easily provide a quick respite from our busy lives.”
The state Department of Natural Resources is the entity responsible for deciding whether Erickson Logging can harvest timber from the site.
Officials in the Department of Natural Resources’ South Puget Sound Region office prescreened the area to assess possible risks if logging proceeds. The agency did not foresee issues if the state allowed the Squak Mountain timber harvest.
The application for a state forest practices, or logging, permit to harvest can take up to 30 days for approval.
The review conducted by the Department of Natural Resources is less stringent than the environmental review required under the State Environmental Policy Act — a source of concern for Kappler and Squak Mountain residents.
If the 30-day period passes without objection, then a timber harvest is approved and logging can start.
The logging opponents also called for King County to consider purchasing the land for conservation.
Doug Williams, spokesman for the King County Department of Natural Resources and Parks, said the county is considering options for the land and should reach a decision in March.
“I think that it’s location as being right in between a couple of existing amenities, existing parks properties, gives it, certainly, a pretty good boost,” he said.
The property meets many of county-mandated park acquisition ranking criteria.
The old-growth trees on the property and proximity to the Cougar Mountain-Squak Mountain Corridor — a 795-acre expanse linking county-run Cougar Mountain Regional Wildland Park and Squak Mountain State Park — could boost the chances for acquisition.
“It’s kind of the sandwich piece between Cougar Mountain and Squak,” Williams said.
Some county dollars could come from Conservation Futures Funds or voter-approved parks and open space funds. The county lacks the resources to purchase the land outright, so staffers started the process to apply for state grants to fund a possible acquisition.
“I think the property is fairly familiar to folks, and we just need to make some internal decisions about whether we want to pursue acquisition,” Williams said.
Kappler acknowledged the difficult position the county is in, with parcels countywide under consideration for conservation and limited dollars available to purchase open space. The trails club president joined county staffers and Erickson to tour the land last month.
“There’s no question that there are parcels that are more important to the Mountains to Sound Greenway and the county and all of that — that have been in the works for years, that they’ve been trying to acquire for a long time,” he said.
In the past, county officials acquired land near or adjacent to existing conservation areas for preservation. Williams cited the county decision to purchase a former farmstead near North Bend last year to plug a gap in the Three Forks Natural Area.
“Issaquah has a remarkable amount of public land encircling it,” Williams said. “I think Issaquah is unique in that regard, in that there is a lot of public land nearby.”