Conservationists are celebrating now that the recently approved state capital budget includes money to protect all of a 1,600-acre “core” of Blanchard Mountain in Skagit County from logging – capping an effort that has lasted for years.
“I am thrilled. It’s been 10 years in coming. So many people have been involved,” said Molly Doran, executive director for Skagit Land Trust. “The true heroes are the thousands of supporters who wrote and called their legislator and advocated to get the funding for Blanchard.”
The budget included $10 million for the Trust Land Transfer Program, the mechanism that will be used to protect the core. A bill introduced by Rep. Jeff Morris, D-Mount Vernon, would rename the area the Harriet Spanel Forest to honor the late legislator and Bellingham Democrat who has been described as one of Blanchard’s greatest champions.
Mitch Friedman, executive director for Conservation Northwest, also has been part of the effort to save Blanchard for many years.
“It’s a mix of exultation and relief,” Friedman said of knowing that the core has been saved.
Located just south of the Whatcom County line, Blanchard Mountain, which has about 100,000 visitors a year, is known for its sweeping views. It is part of the Chuckanut Range and is a favorite destination for hikers, mountain bikers and horseback riders as well as paragliders and hang gliders.
Conservationists, recreation groups and the Skagit County Board of Commissioners have been pushing the state Legislature to secure funding to protect all of the 1,600 acres that formed the centerpiece of the Blanchard Forest Strategy, reached about a decade ago. It was created by a diverse group that included recreation, conservation and timber interests.
The 4,800-acre Blanchard Working Forest is overseen by the state Department of Natural Resources, which, by law, must manage such forest trust land to provide revenue, primarily through timber sales, for Skagit County, Burlington-Edison schools and other smaller taxing districts in that county.
Logging would occur elsewhere in the forest but the idea was to allow the 1,600 acres, referred to as the “core,” to grow into an old forest, and to provide habitat for wildlife and continued opportunities for recreation.
Popular recreation areas in the core include Oyster Dome, a beloved trail with breathtaking views at the top that take in Samish Bay, the San Juan Islands, Skagit Valley and Georgia Strait.
To offset revenue lost from not logging in the core, other land in Skagit County needed to be acquired for timber harvest recently valued at $14.2 million.
The Legislature had aside $6.5 million of the total needed. What was needed was the remaining $7.7 million to save the core from being logged, and those trying to protect all of it were running out of time.
That’s where DNR’s Trust Land Transfer Program will come in.
It will allow the land in the core to be transferred into conservation status. Then, other land in Skagit County will be purchased as working forest as a replacement.
And while that land swap and other details still must be completed, Friedman expressed confidence that “the hard part is over.”
“I’m starting to plan for a party on the mountain in the early summer,” he said.
Details of the effort to rename the forest were updated Jan. 23.