Land set aside for commercial forestry must be protected, and last month's vote by the Whatcom County Council to transfer state timberland to the county for use as a park violates state law, according to an appeal filed Tuesday, April 9.
Jack Petree, a private citizen who has written about the timber industry for decades, so far is the sole petitioner challenging the council's March 12 vote to transfer, or reconvey, 8,844 acres of forest around Lake Whatcom to the county. The Parks and Recreation Department plans to develop a low-impact park with areas of old-growth forest and trails for hiking, horseback riding and biking.
The petition for review, filed with the state Growth Management Hearings Board, was not a surprise. Petree said last year that he might file a challenge.
And during a public hearing immediately before the council vote, Dick Whitmore, a retired forester, almost promised he would do so.
Petree argued in an email to council members on Tuesday that the reconveyed land has a special status because it is zoned for commercial forestry, and the council is obligated by state law and its own code to preserve the land for the timber industry.
Petree said the county's economy has suffered under the government's planning decisions.
"We are crippling our forest products industry, an industry paying well above the average wage for the county," he wrote.
Proponents of the reconveyance, including council member Pete Kremen, say the park hardly diminishes the timber industry. Of the 8,844 acres, from 2,000 to 4,000 acres are able to be logged, Kremen said at the March 12 meeting.
The impact, he said, is "almost not discernible."
In an interview, Petree said the amount of timber taken out of the harvest rotation is not the point. Previous court cases have protected even small parcels set aside for natural resource use, he said.
"That argument really doesn't matter very much," Petree said. "Even on land changes as small as a baseball diamond, there are problems doing that."
Petree said he is not opposed to parks.
"This is not an anti-park issue with me," he said. "It's the fact that the process was not properly done."
Kremen responded to Petree's email from Tuesday, asking whether he was being paid by the timber industry to file the petition. Petree said he has acted alone.
"I haven't received a dime to do this challenge," Petree said in an interview. "I did this because I think it's the right thing to do."
Whitmore, the retired forester; Tim Westergreen of Great Western Lumber; and Nielsen Brothers Inc. filed suit against the reconveyance years ago, but had their case dismissed in 2010. A state appeals court said it was too early to challenge an action that hadn't yet been taken.
Immediately after last month's vote, Whitmore said the time was ripe for an appeal. He strongly suggested he would appeal during his testimony at the hearing, and criticized the park plan for being vague and driven by special-interest conservation groups.
"We're going to go to court on this, and then we'll hear the truth," he said then.
Westergreen, reached by phone Wednesday, April 10, said his group hadn't decided whether to appeal.
The light green areas in this map show the almost 9,000 acres around Lake Whatcom that would be converted into parkland after the Whatcom County Council voted 5-2 March 12, 2013 to "reconvey" the land from the state, which was managing it for timber harvesting.