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A history of protecting Blanchard Mountain

Since 2001, Conservation Northwest has worked to protect the forests and wildlife habitat of Blanchard Mountain, the only place where this Cascades range outlier of the Chuckanuts meets the sea and upper Puget Sound.

Blanchard Mountain, the southernmost part of the Chuckanut Range, is public land enjoyed by thousands of residents and visitors and managed by the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) as state trust lands. The agency cuts forests on Blanchard to raise money for the trust.

Mount Baker as seen from the eastern shoulder of Blanchard Mountain. Photo courtesy Lee Mann

And while many of us think of trust lands as benefiting schools, they were established for a number of different beneficiaries, among them the general public and the counties. Revenues from Blanchard Mountain logging, over and above management costs, go to Skagit County.

Photo courtesy Lee Mann: A view out to Mt. Baker and the Sisters from the forested slopes of Blanchard Mountain.

DNR has long logged Blanchard for the trusts, and many of the mountains forests are third-growth following a long tradition of rotation logging. A decade ago, the chair of the Mount Baker Group of the Sierra Club, Randy Walcott, took up the cause of protecting Blanchard Mountain from ongoing logging. In December 1998, he formally petitioned the DNR requesting that Blanchard Mountain be declared a natural resource conservation area. The agency denied the petition, citing loyalties to the trust.

In 2001, Conservation Northwest joined Randy and others to protect Blanchard. Conservation Northwest's goal was twofold, safeguarding Blanchard in perpetuity as a functioning forest and leading a way to better management of our other valuable state trust lands.

In 2006, to break a long stalemate, the DNR convened a group of diverse interests, including representatives from Conservation Northwest and Friends of Blanchard Mountain, to create a collaborative forest management plan for Blanchard's forests. It was an opportunity for the Board of Natural Resources and DNR staff to work with citizens finding a proactive solution to protect this remarkable mountain and its forested trails and wildlife habitat.

The year-long collaborative effort ended with the Blanchard Mountain agreement, protecting 1,600 acres of core, central habitat from logging while allowing continued logging on other parts of the forest under prevailing rules. That heart of Blanchard is 1,300 acres more than the DNR wanted to give up and 1,000 acres less than what conservationists had been fighting for. But the Blanchard Strategies Group Agreement made up for that by finding unexpected common ground around the idea of working together to prevent the conversion of working forests to sprawl.

Here’s how the sprawl-fighting part works: The value of the 1,600 acres of protected forests is about $12 million, which must be obtained from the state legislature with five years (so far the legislature has funded $5.5 M over three years).

In the past such funds have always been dispersed directly to the trusts. This time, DNR will use the funds to buy private timberland otherwise at risk of being sold to developers for conversion to sprawl. DNR has already closed on a couple such deals with the $5.5 million raised to date, including buying 80 acres on the side of Blanchard.

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