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Next step for a Whatcom watershed preserve

Nov 09, 2009

The Whatcom County Council has approved the first step in creating the Lake Whatcom Forest Preserve.

Next step for a Whatcom watershed preserve

Old growth remaining in the watershed now stands a good chance of being preserved as a new county preserve. Photo: Dave Werntz

The Whatcom County Council today approved the next step toward a Lake Whatcom Forest Preserve. Creation of the preserve will restore old-growth forests within a watershed that provides drinking water for about 90,000 people, half the people in Whatcom County, including Bellingham.

On November 12, the County Council authorized the County Executive to enter into an agreement with Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to work together to set the stage for creation of  the preserve.

DNR manages about half the Lake Whatcom watershed and the various types of trust lands are scattered. Under the agreement, DNR will block up forest board lands in two areas in the watershed: above Northshore and around Sudden Valley. Whatcom County will pay administrative and appraisal costs, and meanwhile DNR will not log on the lands proposed for transfer. When the process is complete, sometime in 2010, the county will decide whether or not to transfer these lands from DNR to the county parks department.

The process will likely ultimately lead to 8,400 acres of timberland, about 25% of the watershed moving from DNR management to county parks management. The county intends to manage the preserve for low impact recreation and for restoration of old-growth forests.

The area is very steep and has high rainfall, so logging and road building in this are a recipe for silt-bleeding landslides. Logging-triggered landslides are a concern throughout the Northwest, but this area is particularly important because Lake Whatcom is the drinking water source half of Whatcom County, and because the area has a history of landslides. In 1983, landslides triggered by logging impacts resulted in several bridges being washed out and several homes were washed into the lake. The water quality in Lake Whatcom continues to decline due to phosphorus runoff, landslides contribute to that problem when phosphorus-laden silt is washed into the lake.

Conservation Northwest has worked for almost a decade to reduce the impact of DNR commercial logging on Lake Whatcom. In 2000 we helped local citizens bring their safety concerns to the state legislature, which passed the Lake Whatcom Landscape Plan. We helped defend the Landscape Plan in court when Skagit County sued to try and have it overturned.

Today, the Landscape Plan remains in place and will continue to help provide basic protections on the watershed lands that do remain in DNR management. But the Landscape Plan is limited, it still allows clearcutting and would lead to 43 miles of new logging roads being built. A park would result in protection and restoration of old growth forests and offer much better protection against landslides.

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