Editor's note: The Bellingham Herald questioned the data behind our original story after learning of possible problems with it. The Washington state Recreation and Conservation Office, after investigating our questions, has acknowledged the information in its online inventory is incorrect. The data errors extend across the state, not just to Whatcom County. We published this updated story on August 2, 2014.
The total number of acres in every county was incorrect in a new online map of public lands from the Washington state Recreation and Conservation Office.
That, in turn, threw off the percentage of how much public land in the counties was set aside for natural resources and recreation.
The errors were caused by a Google Web-mapping tool that incorrectly collated the total acres of every county, explained Susan Zemek, spokeswoman for the Recreation and Conservation Office.
The agency learned of the errors after The Bellingham Herald inquired about them following a call from Bruce Ayers, a Bellingham land surveyor. Ayers questioned the data for Whatcom County, most notably the total acreage.
Developers have gone in, checked the numbers and fixed the mistakes, Zemek said.
"That's the beauty of having all this stuff online and also the challenge. Because it's never been done before, there's no baseline to compare numbers to make it easier to spot errors," Zemek said. "We expected some glitches and knew that public scrutiny would help us make the data better and better. And it has."
The agency created the online inventory of land in Washington owned by federal, state and local governments at the request of the Legislature.
Previously, such public land inventories were available only as printed documents.
Prior to the correction, the online map indicated that Whatcom County was made up of nearly 3.7 million acres. It's actually a little over 1.6 million acres, including aquatic lands in the county.
With the correct total acreage, the new figures on the online map at publiclands.smartmine.com show that:
-- About 75 percent of the land in Whatcom County is public land set aside for natural resources and recreation. That's about 1.2 million acres under federal, state and local ownership.
-- Of that total, the federal government owns 72.2 percent - 871,837 acres - mostly in the central and eastern part of the county as park and forest land.
-- The state Department of Natural Resources owns 25.4 percent - 307,040 acres - in uplands and aquatic lands.
-- Nearly 1.9 percent, or 22,335 acres, is owned by the county and cities. (The map originally indicated this was 50,634 acres.)
-- About 0.2 percent, or 2,950 acres, is owned by the state Department of Fish & Wildlife.
-- About 0.2 percent, or 2,852 acres, makes up state parks.
In addition to the owners and the acreage, the online inventory shows the location, the parcels - which can cross counties - as well as their principal use and, in some cases, the date and cost of acquisition along with a link to more detailed information.