Blanchard Mountain Agreement
A collaborative citizens advisory group comes up with an innovative solution and new type of forest conservation for Blanchard Mountain near Bellingham.
At the end of 2007 an historic collaborative agreement was reached for forest management of Blanchard Mountain, the southernmost tip of the Chuckanut Mountain range and the only place where the Cascades touch the sea. This parcel of public lands forest managed by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is a uniquely spectacular one, well loved for its beauty, mature forests, and recreational opportunities. It is surrounded by lands at its foothills that either have been converted to development or are at great risk of conversion.
The DNR has for years planned to clearcut much of the mountain, crisscrossing its core forest with miles of logging roads. Those plans met fierce resistance from conservationists, recreation enthusiasts, and the broader community.
In 2006, then-Commissioner of Public Lands Doug Sutherland convened a group of diverse interests, including Conservation Northwest, called the Blanchard Strategies Group. The stakeholder group was charged with developing a set of recommendations for the future of Blanchard's forests.
Learn more at a Q & A on the Blanchard agreement
The BSG was impressive in its balanced composition and in its open and transparent process and fair facilitation. Conservation Northwest was joined by Skagit Land Trust and Friends of Blanchard Mountain in representing wildland conservation and recreation interests. Intermediate roles were played by reps of Backcountry Horsemen, who have a major stake in recreation on the mountain, and two people with extensive credentials in a mix of both conservation and resource issues. The other seats were Skagit County, a local forester, a prominent and independent-minded Skagit County citizen, and the DNR itself. The facilitator was John Howell, who has served as president of Cascade Land Conservancy.
Photo looking south over the Skagit River delta, from the top of Blanchard Mountain.
This collaborative agreement recommended that a 1,600 acre core area be protected. The 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 core is 1,300 acres more than the DNR wanted to give up and 1,000 acres less than what conservationists have been fighting for the last 10 years. It was a painful agreement all around. But in the eyes of the conservationists, the Blanchard Strategies Group agreement is exciting because it demonstrates that habitat and working forest can be protected by finding common ground.
Working forest, not development
Several other members of the Blanchard Strategies Group had valid concerns about how protection of the core would affect them. These DNR lands provide revenues to Skagit County, and are an important component of the timber industry and the jobs associated with it. In our state, working forests are quickly being lost to suburban home development. The timber industry had expressed concerns that protection of Blanchard’s core would contribute to the problem. The Blanchard Strategies agreement includes provisions to assure that replacement timber lands are purchased, preferably adjacent to Blanchard, to both assure the timber industry has room to operate, and that Skagit County continues to receive revenue from timber sales.
The Public Land Commissioner accepted the recommendations and the Washington State Legislature has shown their support over the course of 3 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.