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Blanchard Mountain

Blanchard Mountain is the southernmost tip of the Chuckanuts near Bellingham. The Chuckanuts are the only place where the Cascade Mountains meet the sea.

Where the Cascades touch the sea

Blanchard, where the Cascades meet the sea. Photo © Lee Mann

Blanchard Mountain, south of Bellingham in Washington state and some 45 miles from the Canadian border, is the southernmost outpost of the Chuckanut range, the only place along Washington's Coast where the Cascades connect to salt water.

The ultimate of green belts: Blanchard Mountain is a beloved and well-used place for recreation, respite, and exploration that separates the increasingly populated Skagit and Whatcom counties. An estimated 35,000 people visit Blanchard's trails each year to ride horses, hang glide, hike, and watch birds and other wildlife. It is state trust lands with a native run of salmon in Oyster Creek.

Southernmost outpost of the Chuckanut Mountains, Blanchard, together with the Lake Whatcom watershed, helps connect the Coast to the Cascades.

Blanchard Mountain features lakes and rivers; runs of native salmon; owls and woodpeckers; deer; mushrooms; and territorial views west to the San Juan Islands and east to Mount Baker and the Cascades. Patches of remnant old growth and stately, mature trees remain after nearly three generations of logging.

Salmon spawn in Blanchard. Photo Tom Wake

Blanchard Mountain is one of many valuable state trust lands–public forests managed by the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR). The DNR had planned to log over the entire mountain, and many of us wanted to protect Blanchard. In 2006, the agency convened a group of diverse interests, including Conservation Northwest and Friends of Blanchard Mountain, to create a management plan for Blanchard's forests that could satisfy the needs of all with interests at stake. The result was the 2008 Blanchard Strategies Group Agreement.

This collaborative agreement recommended that a 1,600 acre core area be protected. This core protects most of the recreational resources such as the top of Blanchard including the Oyster Dome, trails, and lakes. The other two thirds of Blanchard will remain working forest. Meanwhile, to replace the core, the Strategies Group members would seek funding from the legislature to purchase nearby private forestland that is at risk of conversion to residential use. This would increase the size of the Blanchard Forest, enable the trust beneficiaries to continue receiving revenue, and ensuring timber jobs will be retained.

The Public Land Commissioner accepted the recommendations and the Washington State Legislature has shown their support over the course of three legislative sessions by providing $5.5 million of the $12 million in appropriations necessary to fund the replacement land purchases. Conservation Northwest and our partners on the Blanchard Strategies Group continue to work with the Legislature to ensure the fiscal needs of the Agreement are fulfilled.

The agreement was challenged in court by the Chuckanut Conservancy which felt they lacked a seat at the table, that the agreement did not protect enough land, and that the Agreement needed to go through an environmental analysis. The lawsuit was unsuccessful.

Meanwhile, Public Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark has recommended that the Department of Natural Resources establish a natural resource conservation area (NRCA) on Blanchard Mountain. 

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