The successful future of the Skykomish Valley depends on our ability to think generations ahead, today. But this is only attainable when taxpayers are aware of what politicians and public land managers are planning now, and have a chance to say something about it.
Washington's beautiful Skykomish Valley is at a crossroads.
More clear-cuts are planned for public land near Gold Bar.
Just when the Valley is poised to transition from logging and resource extraction to a sustainable economy focused on outdoor recreation and tourism, the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is planning years of intensive logging that will permanently scar the public land surrounding popular Wallace Falls State Park near Gold Bar.
DNR's logging plan will remove large chunks of the forests visible from Gold Bar, and create even more clear-cuts bordering Wallace Falls State Park. (Several DNR clear-cuts already border the Park.)
Here's what the plan looks like:
DNR's Logging Plan for the Area Surrounding Wallace Falls State Park, Gold Bar, WA
All areas within red borders show a named timber sale. Red areas within red borders are clear-cuts. Red areas with no borders designate land that is managed by DNR for clear-cutting, but are not yet specific timber sales. Data courtesy of DNR.
The Middle May timber sale, scheduled for 11/30/20, is especially controversial. It would take down trees over 100 years old, create more clear-cuts along the border of the State Park, and require 5 new logging truck bridges and 6 miles of new logging roads.
This infrastructure would open up the entire section between the Wallace River and May Creek for further cuts (already planned).
Data courtesy of DNR.
Heavy logging on private land has already scarred the valley.
If you drive on Highway 2 you've seen that the hills to the south of Gold Bar (and on both sides of the "scenic byway" Highway 2 corridor through the Skykomish Valley) are already stripped. Much of that land is owned by private timber companies, so the public has little say about what happens there.
But the area around Wallace Falls State Park is different.
The public land surrounding Wallace Falls State Park can be preserved.
This northern hillside surrounding the State Park is not private land, it's public land that's currently managed by the State.
It's one of the only remaining significant patches of forest that hasn't been heavily logged in the last 50 years, and it can be protected.
It used to be County land, and earlier in 2020 thousands of people in Washington signed their name in support of preserving this land by having it reconveyed from State management back to the County for a proposed new park that would be called "Wild Wallace".
The area in question - the proposed "Wild Wallace Park" - is the 5,000-acre western half of the 10,000-acre Reiter Foothills Forest (the non-motorized section), shown in yellow above.
Sauk-Suiattle Indian Tribe also wants this land protected.
More recently, the Sauk-Suiattle Indian Tribe has led the way in seeking options for preserving this area to benefit wildlife habitat, native plant conservation, cultural practices for area tribes, and education.
The Tribe has requested the opportunity to consult with the Snohomish County Council and Department of Natural Resources, and specifically requested that DNR postpone the 11/30/20 Middle May timber sale auction date.
So far the extension the Tribe asked for has not been granted, despite DNR's stated policy of taking tribal voices strongly into account when it comes to land management decisions.
Read Sauk-Suiattle's letters to Snohomish County Council and DNR by clicking below.
What this effort is NOT about:
It's NOT about stopping ALL logging on public land.
It's about preserving one specific area that is more valuable not logged because it buffers Wallace Falls State Park, and acts as a crucial hub connecting the State Park to three other wild areas: The Wild Sky Wilderness, the Morning Star Natural Resource Conservation Area, and Forks of the Sky State Park.
This effort IS about thinking long term and not ruining future opportunities in the Skykomish Valley.
It's about preserving a unique section of old forest that, once logged, will never be the same again.
People in the Sky Valley and throughout Washington have voiced concerns about how DNR's intensive logging plan will affect the environment and the local Sky Valley economy in decades to come.
Taxpayers are concerned about:
Damage to salmon populations:
May Creek, the Wallace River, and other tributaries in the proposed logging areas all run into the Skykomish River, a salmon-bearing river. DNR has acknowledged that there will be increased run-off from its logging plan.
Already, the Moonbeam cut from several years back (which also borders Wallace Falls State Park) looks like a cautionary tale when it comes to potentially endangering waterways.
Dangerous mudslides like the deadly Oso slide:
A commonly heard concern from Skykomish Valley locals is the danger of soil destabilization and potential mudslides due to intensive logging practices.
Long term harm to the appeal of Wallace Falls State Park:
Many see this type of intensive logging right up to the borders of an iconic State Park that receives over 220,000 visitors a year (and generates big revenue for the Skykomish Valley) as extremely shortsighted.
Even Superintendent of Public Schools Chris Reykdahl, who sits on the Board of Natural Resources, has said it's time to re-examine DNR's "timber revenue first" policy when it results in intense logging so near a prime recreational landmark.
Decreased property values in and around Gold Bar:
Already the views from Gold Bar are pockmarked by stripped hillsides to the north and south. This has a direct effect on property values, which as everyone knows, are higher when "mountain views" doesn't equate to barren clear-cuts and erosion lines.
("Clear-cut" refers to the "Variable Retention Harvest logging method, which leaves 8 trees per acre. This typically means removing 97% of the trees.)
Destroying crucial wildlife habitat:
Wildlife populations are under enormous pressure due to habitat loss from development, logging, and forest fires. The area being proposed for a park connects four protected wild areas and is an important wildlife corridor.
The systemic problems behind it all:
1. A public land timber sale process that's geared towards the "in crowd".
We hear it from our neighbors in the Sky Valley all the time...
"Why is it that whenever I drive to work down Highway 2 it seems like another patch of forest is gone?"
They have no idea who's doing the logging, when it's going to happen, or even if it's public or private land. They do care... but they're busy with work, kids, all the usual things that pack a typical day.
Tracking upcoming timber sale auctions and commenting at Board of Natural Resource meetings takes enormous time and dedication. Most people don't even know where to start.
(Fun Fact: Before coronavirus you actually had to drive down to Olympia to comment at the meetings!)
That was fine for the timber lobbyists who got paid to be there because it's their job to represent the private companies who bid on the sales. Not so great though for the average Sky Valley resident who had to take the day off of work or arrange for child care and spend the day driving to Olympia and back just to make a 3-minute comment.
2. Timber lobbyists with ties to DNR.
You have to wonder how it feels for the average Sky Valley resident who manages to make it to a BNR meeting to comment on a proposed timber sale (which even on Zoom can be intimidating) when they figure out their comment is being rebutted by a polished speaker like Matt Comiskey, a timber lobbyist for the American Forest Resource Council... who is also a former DNR employee.
It doesn't mean there's anything shifty going on, but let's be realistic - he's part of the "in crowd", and the average taxpayer is not.
3. A government bureaucracy focused on the wrong thing.
"We've been working on this for years!" is what you hear over and over from DNR whenever the public tries to get them to stop the Middle May timber sale.
Let's think about this.
How does the amount of time spent on a project actually relate to the value of the project? (The value, not the cost.)
DNR has been working on the Middle May sale for years because the first version - called the Singletary sale - was so controversial it resulted in a lawsuit and eventually got canned.
The second version, the Middle May timber sale, is a somewhat modified re-branding of Singletary and also highly controversial.
Yes, it has been years in the making, and during that time the economy and public demand has shifted more and more towards recreation and outdoor tourism. Now, with demand for outdoor spaces skyrocketing because of coronavirus, it's even more obvious that the needs of the public are much different than they were even five years ago.
DNR could learn some lessons from the world of business. Blockbuster Video is an example of a company that spent an enormous amount of time and money researching, marketing, and producing their project - VHS movie rentals. But when the needs and desires of the public changed, they had to face facts and move on.
The amount of time spent on a project is not a good reason to see it through when it's no longer a good idea.
The more DNR says "Let's just get this done", the more apparent it is that they are focusing on the wrong thing, at the public's expense.
4. An antiquated system that uses timber revenues for school construction funding.
Some of the revenues from logging on public land go to local school districts, in this case Sultan School District.
It's a weird system that provides an unreliable source of funding and is usually a very small part of the districts' overall budgets, but the schools expect it and rural districts in particular tend to be averse to any increased taxes for education.
This lose-lose situation pits logging companies and school districts against communities. Many parents whose children attend these schools say they hate the heavy logging and would like to see it stopped. The fact that their schools are short on construction dollars is testimony to the fact that relying on timber revenues is a failing system.
City of Gold Bar (in Sultan School District) passed a resolution opposing the Middle May timber sale and all heavy logging in the hills around Gold Bar. It states that schools should be funded on an ongoing basis by voters, not by one-time sales to private companies without voter input.
Sultan School District's timber revenue from the proposed park reconveyance area could be replaced with just $3 per year per household in Snohomish County.
In fact, just for perspective, ALL timber revenue from logging on ALL public land in Snohomish County could be replaced with just under $30 per year per household, according to DNR's data.
5. DNR sees its mandate as prioritizing timber revenues above all else.
In the 1980s Skamania County sued DNR for allowing timber companies to not log after timber prices dropped and the companies decided they would lose money from logging the sales they had bought the rights for.
The counties get paid when the trees are cut, and Skamania argued that DNR was not fulfilling its duty to produce revenue from public lands.
Skamania won, and ever since then DNR's policy has been that if land can legally be logged, it will be logged.
Now the Skykomish Valley is at a crucial crossroads.
Snohomish County and DNR can shift their land management policy for this one small area and allow an opportunity for Gold Bar to benefit from conserving its natural resources rather than seeing them exported for a one-time windfall.
If they don't, the Middle May sale will get auctioned off on November 30, Wallace Falls State Park will lose what's left of its buffer, and Gold Bar will be further along on its way towards becoming yet another broken window on the increasingly depressing "scenic byway" Highway 2.
A 'Reconveyance" would allow the County to turn it into a park.
Washington state law (RCW 79.22.300) says that if a majority of the 5-member Snohomish County Council votes in favor of getting the land back for a park, the County can do so via a "reconveyance".
All of Reiter Foothills Forest belonged to the County long ago, but in the mid-1900s the County turned it over to the State to manage.
In a reconveyance, the County passes a resolution to get its former land back from the State and doesn't have to pay for the acreage, just the cost of transfer. (DNR does not have the option to say 'no'.)
The proposed 5,000-acre reconveyance area is within the gold border below. If reconveyed, the Middle May, Madera, Timber Toe, and other upcoming sales would not be auctioned off, and that land would be preserved instead.
It's estimated that the approximately 5,000 acres within the gold border would cost several hundred thousand dollars to transfer. Essentially, it would give Snohomish County a new park and a crucial buffer around the State Park for under $100 per acre.
First the Middle May timber sale needs to be stopped.
Middle May would cut the heart out of the proposed park and introduce a huge amount of permanent infrastructure (6 miles of new logging road and 5 new logging truck bridges).
Nearly all of the Middle May sale is clear-cutting, including along the border of Wallace Falls State Park.
We should support the Sauk-Suiattle Indian Tribe's efforts.
Sauk-Suiattle has had ties to this area for thousands of years and is leading the effort to preserve this area for conservation and education purposes. The Tribe has asked DNR to postpone the Middle May timber sale for 3 months.
At the September Board of Natural Resources meeting State Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz went out of her way to say that she places a high priority on the opinions and desires of area Tribes.
Department of Natural Resources needs to live up to its stated policy by agreeing to Sauk-Suiattle Indian Tribe's request for a postponement of the Middle May sale.
The Snohomish County Council should agree to Sauk-Suiattle Tribal Council's request to discuss the possibility of a reconveyance.
Or call / email DNR and the County directly:
The controversial Middle May sale is scheduled for auction on November 30, 2020... but it can still be removed from the auction list, even up to the sale date.