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Protecting Lake Whatcom

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Citizen action to protect Lake Whatcom, a drinking watershed supplying 90,000 residents, going back to at least 1992.

South shore Lake Whatcom proposed preserve
South shore Lake Whatcom proposed preserve

In brief

Jan 22, 2014: Washington Gov. Jay Inslee signs the deed creating the Lake Whatcom park. A community celebration on January 25 marks the event.

Mar 12, 2013: In a 5-2 vote, the Whatcom County Council approves the resolution to reconvey 8,800 acres of state lands to Whatcom County management for a low impact park.

May 22, 2012: The Whatcom County Council is scheduled to take up the issue of the proposed new Lake Whatcom forest park.

Oct 10, 2011: For Lake Whatcom, the Board of Natural Resources again considers approving the intertrust land exchange, or reconveyance, for a proposed park. Under timber industry pressure and despite a strong showing of support from citizens, elected leaders and scientific experts, the board tabled the matter. In contravention of the MOU signed in 2009, the board resolution demands that the Whatcom County Council first take up the matter again.

July 2011: The Board of Natural Resources had the opportunity to approve the intertrust land exchange put in motion by the 2009 MOU, with work paid for by Whatcom County. Under pressure from the timber industry, the board tabled the matter and directed DNR to answer questions about the proposed exchange.

May 2011: With DNR having completed the preparatory work (under the MOU) for a land exchange, which is to precede reconveyance for a new forest preserve on one quarter of the Lake Whatcom watershed, the DNR and Whatcom County held public sessions discussing the potential new preserve. Strong support was express from local citizens and elected leaders.

Nov 2010: Whatcom County Council approves budget to continue paying the expense of DNR per the MOU.

Nov 2009: With approval of the Whatcom County Council, Executive Kremen and Public Lands Commissioner Doug Sutherland sign an MOU (memorandum of agreement) setting out a process for the land exchange and reconveyance. The MOU requires Whatcom County to pay $291,000 to DNR for related staff work.

Sept 2008: Whatcom County approves steps to create the preserve.

Sept 2007: DNR and Whatcom County agree to work together on a land swap in the Lake Whatcom watershed, to ensure that any reconveyance of lands results in high quality parks, lands for timber management, and protection of the lake's drinking water resources.

Jan 2007:  First hearing in Skagit v. Washington. The judge dismisses motions and narrows the scope of the upcoming trial to consider only legislative intent.

Nov 2006: The Whatcom County Council budgets $300,000 to begin working with DNR on reconveyance of county forest board land to park.

Feb 2005: Skagit County files suit to overturn the landscape plan, fearing loss of revenues from the small portion of lands lying in Skagit County.

Nov 2004: The Board of Natural Resources adopts the Lake Whatcom Landscape Management Plan after repeated rounds of dedicated citizen support.

Oct 2004: Whatcom County files suit.

Sept 2004: Whatcom County and City of Bellingham threaten to file suit to force the BNR to adopt the plan.

June 2004: Commissioner of Public Lands meets with Whatcom County officials and asks that they explore options for the lands other than the Landscape Plan that was just developed.

Jan 2004: Committee completes the landscape plan. The Plan is rejected by the Board of Natural Resources (BNR) despite impassioned lobbying by a score of elected officials and citizens.

2000—2003: Conservation Northwest works to educate and energize the public to track the landscape planning committee work and provide support and comments.

2001: Conservation Northwest introduces legislation enabling counties to reconvey their forest board land for the purpose of water quality protection. The bill failed.

2000: Working with local residents Linda Marrom and Jamie Berg, Conservation Northwest helps draft (and pass) legislation for a landscape plan for Lake Whatcom, to reduce the risks and effects of logging on public safety and lake water quality. The state then forms a committee to develop the plan.

1998: DNR moved forward with plans to log steep slopes above Sudden Valley without the formal management plan in place. The planned Austin Creek timber sale sparked residents to form Citizen Advocates for Whatcom, to force the DNR to consider other options and establish land planning when logging around the lake and above people's homes.

1992: Whatcom County and the DNR signed an Interagency Agreement to initiate a joint planning process to produce a formal forest management plan for public lands in the watershed. Unfortunately, this joint planning process never occurred.

Also see a history of Conservation Northwest's work on other state trust lands, showing that ecological and educational futures can both be protected.
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