On April 9, 2013, Jack Petree filed a petition with the Growth Management Hearing Board to try to block the 5-to-2 decision by the Whatcom County Council to return 8,844 acres in the Lake Whatcom watershed from the Department of Natural Resources to local control by Whatcom County for use as a park. Whatcom Land Trust's petition to intervene in support of Whatcom County was granted May 10th.
This transfer of ownership from commercial forest to park use is provided for by Washington statutes. The process is called reconveyance. Whatcom County does not have to purchase the property, but only to pay DNR's transaction costs. The acquisition of this property will cost Whatcom County less than $35 an acre.
Because only a about a quarter of the reconveyed land is suitable for commercial logging, job loses and harm to the timber industry in Whatcom County will be very small, if any.
The county will still be able to conduct timber harvest where and how appropriate to help defer the costs of managing the park.
Whatcom Land Trust has worked with Whatcom County to support reconveyance for more than eight years. We have participated in the public process at every step of the way and have consistently provided the County Council with accurate information to help inform its decision-making.
When concerns about lost timber revenue by the Mount Baker School District threatened reconveyance, the Land Trust reached an agreement with the school board to compensate the district for revenue lost due to the reconveyance.
We see intervention in the Growth Management Hearing Board process as a responsible continuation of our involvement and support.
Our intervention allows us to keep abreast of the proceedings and to participate to the extent it is helpful to the county. We hope that our intervention also signals to the County Council that we deeply appreciate its reconveyance decision and that our support is steadfast. Whatcom County retains the lead role in opposing the challenge.
We continue to support reconveyance because it provides a number of significant benefits to our community:
It will provide extraordinary recreational opportunities in an exquisite natural environment in close proximity to many city and county residents. People will be able to walk, run, mountain bike, horseback ride, enjoy nature and contemplate expansive views in an aging natural forest.
By restoring natural ecosystems and minimizing ground disturbance, reconveyance will help protect the drinking water of about half of the county's residents. Though not a solution to Lake Whatcom's problems, a largely undisturbed forest filtering runoff and stabilizing slopes will help.
This exceptional public amenity will help attract new businesses, creative entrepreneurs and skilled workers to Whatcom County. Studies show that increasingly businesses that will drive the economic future of communities in the west are drawn to communities with high quality of life and outdoor recreation opportunities.
Reconveyance will conserve and enhance large contiguous parcels of wildlife habitat and functioning natural ecosystems. The forest will gradually take on old-growth characteristics.
This critically located land will be returned to local control. Local government will make decisions in the interest of the local community.
As a non-profit organization, we work for what we believe to be in the public interest of the people of this community - wildlife habitat, productive forest and farmland, open space and outdoor recreation, functioning ecosystems, healthy lakes, streams and seashores, and the scenic grandeur of Whatcom County.
We think that these values will help produce a thriving local economy as we proceed into the 21 century.
The Land Trust believes that most people in Whatcom County share this view of the public interest. That shared view brought together two Republicans and three Democrats on the County Council to vote in favor of the reconveyance.
Whatcom Land Trust does not gain ownership or control of the land as some opponents have claimed. Ownership and control remains in the hands of Whatcom County. The Land Trust benefits from our support of reconveyance and our intervention only by furthering what we believe to be in the public interest of our community.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Craig Lee is executive director and Rand Jack is a board member of the Whatcom Land Trust. For information about the organization, go online to WhatcomLandTrust.org.