FAQs About the Proposal to Stop Logging Near Wallace Falls State Park and Turn the Land Into a Public Park Instead
We are a group of local citizens asking the Snohomish County Council to reconvey approx. 5,300 acres of Forest Board Land near Gold Bar back to the County to create a new public park.
Frequently Asked Questions
This is not about stopping all logging in the Sky Valley. This is about preserving a total of approx. 5,300 acres of public land to the east and west of Wallace Falls State Park that the Department of Natural Resources plans to log heavily, and instead turning that area into a public park to relieve overcrowding at Wallace Falls State Park, preserve the beauty of the valley, and generate more tourism revenue for Gold Bar.
No. We are talking about 5,300 acres on the west half of the approximately 11,400-acre Reiter Foothills. The eastern half that contains the off-road vehicle area (and where additional timber sales are also planned) would not be affected by the reconveyance.
The cost for the land would be $0 (zero) per acre. That's because it's already public land and Snohomish County can ask to have it reconveyed back to the County using a process called "Reconveyance". (RCW 79.22.300)
Under the terms of a reconveyance, the County can ask to have the land back without paying for the acreage as long as it uses the land for a public park. The County would just pay for the administrative cost of the transfer, i.e. surveying, but gets the land for free.
Snohomish County Council member Sam Low, who represents the Gold Bar area, estimated the cost of the transfer at several hundred thousand dollars.
This means that for well under $100 per acre Snohomish County could get a new 5,300-acre public park that would benefit the physical and mental health of all its residents, and generate new revenue for Gold Bar and the Skykomish Valley.
No. On December 18, 2019, the City of Gold Bar passed a resolution opposing heavy logging in the hills around Gold Bar. The City of Gold Bar stated the following in Resolution No. 19-15:
"Timber sales, whether the Singletary Plan, the newly proposed plan called Middle May, or other such plans to harvest vast amounts of forest in the surrounding area will negatively and drastically impact both the beauty and functionality of the forests for many decades to come."
1) First of all, this is NOT about stopping ALL logging on public land in Sultan School District.
It concerns only 5,300 crucial acres that protect Wallace Falls State Park, Snohomish County's busiest park and a primary revenue generator for the Skykomish Valley.
This means it is also NOT about stopping all revenues that go to Sultan School District from heavy logging on public land.
It does mean that when people talk about timber sale revenues generated by ALL public timber lands in Sultan School District when referring to the relatively small proposed new park area, they are speaking out of context.
2) Any timber sale revenue needs to be evaluated over the logging life cycle of the stand of trees, i.e. 50 years.
(Some timber is logged more frequently, but some of the trees in the soon-to-be auctioned Middle May sale near Wallace Falls are over 100 years old, so 50 years is pretty conservative.)
If a school district got $350K from a timber sale, over the 50-year logging cycle that comes out to $7K on a yearly basis. $500K comes out to $10K on a yearly basis.
By comparison, Sultan School District's most recent yearly budget was over $31 million.
Not looking at it this way would be like if someone got a sum of money once every 50 years, but talked about it to you as though they got that same amount every single year.
That's a number often quoted by Sultan School District Superintendent Dan Chaplik as being the amount of revenue from timber sales from 1999 to 2020, and also a reason for not reconveying these 5,300 acres for a public park.
To put that number into context, it's important to:
1) Average it out over that 20 year time span, which comes to $393,403 per year.
2) Understand that this number is totaled from ALL public timber lands in Sultan School District (not the relatively very small portion proposed for a new public park).
This means - as is hopefully also clear to the Sultan School Board - that quoting the number in this context is out of context and not an "apples to apples" comparison.
Here's another way to look at it:
If each of the approximately 15,000 households in Sultan School District gave just $26 dollars a year, that would completely replace the annual amount that was generated by ALL timber lands in the district.
Or, seeing as this is being proposed as a County Park, if each of the 300K households in Snohomish County gave $1.31 per YEAR, that would also make up that amount.
Now, consider that the 5,300 acres for the proposed park makes up just a small portion of those timber lands.
That's a good question.
Contrary to what was stated by Angus Brodie, DNR Uplands Deputy Supervisor in a recent Everett Herald article, the 5,300 acres can be reconveyed back to the County without a swap. This is because they are forest board lands, not common school trust lands.
(Common school trust lands would require a land swap. There are an additional 600 acres of land under discussion that are common school trust lands, but the 5,300 acres referred to in the article are all forest board land.)
It's surprising that a DNR employee who should be very familiar with this acreage made it sound as though 23% of the 5,300-acre proposed park area would require a land swap when that is not the case.
They're a huge deal for Wallace Falls State Park and the future of Gold Bar, but a tiny deal for Department of Natural Resources.
The Middle May clear-cut in the proposed area, for example, will be just under 1 million board feet of timber. In 2017 Washington approved over 2.7 billion board ft of timber harvest.
That means the Middle May timber sale accounts for around .037% (that's 1/27th of one percent) of typical yearly timber sales in Washington.
This is not about stopping ALL logging in the Sky Valley or Reiter Foothills Forest.
The City of Gold Bar has stated very clearly what most people in the Sky Valley already know:
"Economic growth for Gold Bar and the Skykomish Valley is primarily going to come through tourism and services in the next fifty years and not through selling natural resources."
"The City of Gold Bar has a history of mining and logging that, while an important part of history and heritage, no longer serves as viable sources of employment or income for its residents."
Logging and mining were a key part of Gold Bar's history, but anyone who lives along the Highway 2 corridor knows that times are changing. Other communities along Highway 2 have been forward-thinking enough to tap into the skyrocketing demand for areas with outdoor recreation.
When we say "clear-cut", we're talking about the "Variable Retention Harvest" (VRH) logging method. This means leaving around 8 trees per acre.
When you typically start out with 300 to 400 trees per acre, that means removing around 97% of the trees.
So yes, there are a few trees left, but if you're the kind of person who would call yourself bald if you lost 97% of your hair, then it's a clear-cut.
Department of Natural Resources (DNR) manages several types of land, including former County land that was lost to foreclosure in the early 1900's and turned over to the state to manage. As part of the agreement, some revenue from timber sales on this public land goes to schools for infrastructure (not for teacher salaries or equipment).
This is what the City of Gold Bar has to say about it:
"Any monetary benefit from the proposed sale of timber for logging provides a one-time limited benefit as opposed to ongoing maintainable sources of revenue for entities such as school, fire or hospital districts."
"The funding from such districts should be ongoing and come from the voters of those districts and not lump sum one time sales of land without voter input."
Department of Natural Resources (DNR) interprets its state mandate as requiring it to generate as much money from timber sale revenues as possible.
In reality the mandate states that the lands need to be managed for "all the people", but DNR has been sued in the past for NOT logging because of the way the mandate is currently interpreted.
DNR is planning to build miles and miles of logging roads and bridges over May Creek that are large enough for logging trucks. Future 'hiking' trails would run through large clear-cuts filled with slash.
It falls into the "Thanks, but you really shouldn't have" department.
There's already a great infrastructure of trails in that part of Reiter Foothills, along with former trails that would be easy to put back into use. Most of them currently run through beautiful stands of forest, some over 100 years old.
Much smaller, less expensive bridges that are suitable for equestrians could be installed with grant money, and in less problematic locations. This has been done in many parks throughout the country.
We don't say this lightly, but the data we've seen indicates to us that they are severely off base.
The trails proposed for the new public park would:
- Take no longer to build than the trails DNR says it wants to create.
- Would cost FAR less and would primarily be funded by grants.
- Would preserve habitat for wildlife and prevent the creation of landslide hazards.
- Would allow people to hike, bike, and ride through trees, not through acres of slash.
The back story:
Ben Hale of DNR has stated that the 'hiking trails' (through clear cuts) that DNR plans to build in 8 to 10 years would cost $1 million. However, in order to build those trails DNR first has to build 5 logging truck bridges across May Creek and over 5 miles of logging roads, all needed for the Middle May timber sale that is getting pushed through and that the Board of Natural Resources plans to vote on at their Sept. 1, 2020 meeting.
His statement that it would take over $3 million and 15 to 20 years to build the trails without the logging is also severely flawed.
First of all, there is already an existing network of trails in the proposed park area.
Secondly, the proposed park would qualify for a wide variety of grant money for building and improving trails, which is how trails are typically created in parks that are not heavily logged first. Because of the Covid19 pandemic the state of Washington now has even more funding available for parks and trails.
Finally, only one or two equestrian and pedestrian bridges over May Creek are needed, not five. They cost far less than logging truck bridges, and they can be put in locations that would be much less harmful to May Creek.
For example, a 6-foot by 60-foot equestrian-friendly bridge costs $84,020 to buy and ship to Washington, and can be assembled on site. Less expensive bridges come pre-assembled and can be positioned by helicopter.
Since 2010 over $6 million has been spent on off-road vehicle trails in the eastern portion of Reiter Foothills, while only a few hundred thousand has been spent on non-motorized trails. DNR should let non-motorized users decide whether or not they want to hike on logging roads through clear-cuts or on forested trails.
A lot of traffic is passing through Gold Bar to spend money in Chelan County, which prioritizes tourism. It would be great to get some of the benefit of those tourists rather than just the traffic.
Logging more of the hills around Gold Bar will not fix Highway 2, as some people seem to think. But it will make Gold Bar look like a place that's being stripped for short term gain, and send more of that traffic through the valley to places that know how to capitalize on the economy we are living with today, not the economy of 30 years ago.
A 2019 study showed that Lake Serene's 45,000 users contribute $475,000 per year to the local (i.e. Sky Valley) economy, and a total of $834,000 in Snohomish County. (https://rco.wa.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/HikingBikingStudy.pdf) At $10.55 per visitor, and considering that groups of 2 and 3 often fill up a tank of gas and/or stop to eat, that seems realistic and even conservative.
Wallace Falls State Park gets over 225,000 visitors per year, making it Snohomish County's busiest park. A recent survey found that 42% of Wallace Falls visitors plan to shop or dine in the local area. If each of those shoppers spent only the same amount, $10.55, that would amount to $996,975 per year - nearly a million dollars to the Sky Valley economy.
In addition to typical hiker spending, the proposed new public park area has enough space for mountain bikers and equestrians to recreate without competing, has multiple areas suitable for great paid campsites, and could have cabin rentals and paid climbing and mountain biking tours. There would also be great potential for a paid shuttle service from Monroe to Gold Bar.
This is how Gold Bar can revitalize its economy and use its natural resources sustainably, instead of exporting them for a one-time windfall that leaves a 50-year legacy of stripped hillsides.
To use the biggest number being thrown around right now when people estimate potential annual revenue loss to the 'beneficiaries' who receive money from timber sales, let's take $1 million. This is approximately 3.2% of the district's annual budget, and can only be used for construction (not teacher salaries or school equipment).
There are around 250,000 households in Snohomish County. If every household paid $4 per YEAR for this public park it would compensate the beneficiaries. This is without taking into account increased income to local businesses and the revenue from sales tax collected from purchases generated by visitors to the new park.
Other options include a carbon credit program, parking fees, and/or a trail pass, among others. The existing Wallace Falls State Park already receives over 225,000 visitors per year. The math is not that difficult, the funding method simply needs to not be held back by outdated thinking.
Yes. That's because Department of Natural Resources (DNR) interprets its mandate as a requirement to generate as much timber sale revenue as possible, so the land will be logged if it stays under the management of DNR.
There are already two crucial timber sales planned for late 2020, and at least one more in 2021. (And more from 2021 to 2025.)
Under the terms of state law (RCW 79.22.300), the land can only be reconveyed back to the County if the County uses the land for a public park.