The reconveyance of 8,700 acres of productive multiple-use land in the Lake Whatcom watershed to a single-use, low-impact park is a classic example of the urban culture clashing with the rural culture. Over the past century the urban population has increased as the rural population decreased. The urban population has lost touch with the importance of the rural population. All of our food, clothing and shelter comes from rural areas. This disconnect between these two societies is detrimental to the well being of us all.
Whatcom County's plan for a park is not what most of us envision, but a "forest preserve" that will have very limited recreation for the average citizen, mostly a hands-off area. Trail mileage would be cut by more than half. The mountain bikers, horsemen, hunters and other users must understand that their uses may go away completely or be highly diminished.
To preserve this area for water quality is misguided. We cannot say that a working forest does not contribute to the degrading of our water quality but, we can say that it is insignificant under the forest practice rules and regulations and the Lake Whatcom Landscape Plan. There are much bigger urban problems to worry about.
At the bottom, water from working forest streams usually spreads out and slows down so most suspended materials from the upper slopes filter out. Urbanization has taken over these alluvial fans and has created diked ditches, the velocity of the water is increased and the full load of suspended material is delivered to the lake. Go to Google earth and look at the mouths of Smith, Olsen and Austin creeks. Look how the edge of the lake has been urbanized.
Many describe a working forest as a desolate wasteland with soil running down the hillside, void of wildlife, trees gone forever. Look around Whatcom County, what do you see? Trees, trees everywhere and we have been harvesting them for more than 100 years and they still keep growing.
To understand what working forest are you must understand the extensive rules and regulations of the Forest Practices Act, the federally approved habitat conservation plan, watershed analysis and the Lake Whatcom Landscape Plan. All of these regulations guide what can be done on the state land within the watershed. More than 30 percent of the land along streams and on steep slopes will never be cut.
People envision an old-growth forest full of diversity; but they are not, their diversity is limited to plants and animals that live in older forests. In a working forest were there are openings and a variety of stands of different ages and densities, there is a larger variety of species. There is more biodiversity in a working forest.
Let us look for a real solution that will benefit all of us. As a working forest, the revenue to the county government alone is hundreds of thousands of dollars a year (it could be enough to wipe out the county budget deficit). Taxes are collected from purchasers of timber and from all the people employed to produce wood products, used both by urban and rural societies. This is locally grown certified "green wood."
A real solution would have a recreational component that exceeds the vision of County Parks. Objective 19 of the 2004 Landscape Plan approved by the state and county, calls for all interested users to come up with a recreation plan. Money to implement this plan could come from the revenues received from timber harvesting. A comprehensive recreational plan for the whole Lake Whatcom watershed could be accomplished, exceeding everyone's vision. This plan depends on the cooperation of the private-forest land owners. Cooperation goes both ways. If the county plans to take 8,700 acres of legally zoned commercial forest land, why should the industry cooperate on a recreation plan? Why should the industry leave its land open to any recreation? Unless maybe it is pay as you go.
It is time for us to come together and develop a plan that benefits us all. This is not an either or solution, rather it is a let's think outside the box collaboration.
Dick Whitmore lives in Bellingham and is a retired forest engineer who has been involved in Lake Whatcom watershed issues for 30 years. He serves on the interjurisdictional committee reviewing all management of state-controlled land in the Lake Whatcom Watershed and is also a watershed-rehabilitation consultant in Central America.