Blanchard Mountain protected, forever

Blanchard Mountain protected, forever

ConservationNWAdmin / Oct 08, 2019 / Blanchard Mountain, Protecting Wildlands

The forest and trails around Oyster Dome and Blanchard Mountain are finally protected. Thank you to everyone who joined with us to make this possible!

The view from Oyster Dome of the forest below and the San Juan Islands and Bellingham Bay beyond. Photo: Chase Gunnell

Last week, we received an announcement Conservation Northwest has been working towards for nearly 20 years: 1,600 acres of forest around Blanchard Mountain were protected, forever.

The state Board of Natural Resources, led by Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz, voted to approve the final land transfer converting the “core” of Blanchard State Forest, recently renamed the Harriet Spanel Forest in recognition of one of its greatest champions, into a natural area permanently protected for people to enjoy and wildlife to call home.

We couldn’t be happier and more proud of this outcome, and the years of hard work by our staff, activists, supporters and partners that went into it.

Read more in articles from the Skagit Valley Herald and the Seattle P.I.!

The view from Samish Overlook on Blanchard Mountain of the Samish and Skagit river deltas Photo: Chase Gunnell.

Where the Cascades meet the Salish Sea

Located south of Bellingham off Chuckanut Drive and home to Oyster Dome, Lily Lake and other beloved outdoor destinations, Blanchard Mountain is a hugely popular recreation area visited by as many as 100,000 people from across the region each year. These public lands are managed by the Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR), including for logging to benefit local school districts and other trust beneficiaries.

Picnickers enjoy the view from Samish Overlook on Blacnhard Mountain while planning the protection of the surrounding forest. Photo: Molly Doran, Skagit Land Trust

For decades, trails, vistas and habitat in the area were at risk of being closed or gravely altered by logging. As Blanchard’s popularity as a recreation destination grew, our community was increasingly interested in preserving the area and finding alternate ways to fund local schools.

In the early-2000s, we joined activists from the Mount Baker Group of the Sierra Club who were petitioning to declare the forest around Blanchard Mountain a state Natural Resource Conservation Area—a petition the agency denied at the time.

In 2006, we worked with a diverse group of local leaders, agency and conservation interests to craft the Blanchard Forest Strategy agreement, identifying a 1,600-acre core zone that would be protected for recreation and environmental qualities and would no longer be logged. It was an early example of the effectiveness of our collaborative approach to conservation.

Mitch lobbying for Blanchard Mountain with Molly Doran of Skagit Land Trust, Harold Mead of Friends of Blanchard and Bob Rose and Kendra Smith, Skagit County citizens and community leaders.

However, to implement the Strategy, DNR needed funding to purchase replacement timberlands to offset lost revenues, including for the Burlington-Edison School District and Skagit County Emergency Medical Services. $7 million was initially provided by the state legislature, but that was less than half what was needed. The Great Recession would hit state budgets before additional funding was allocated.

With timber sales planned and a deadline to come up with the remaining funds looming, over the last four years we worked with elected leaders and partners including Skagit Land Trust, timber industry representatives, and recreation groups to ensure the remaining $7.7 million was appropriated by the state, and the fiscal requirements of the Blanchard Forest Strategy agreement fulfilled.

Thanks to more than 3,000 comments from our activists, letters from hikers, Western Washington University students and many other concerned community members, as well as strong support from Commissioner Franz, Skagit County Commissioner Lisa Janicki, and local legislators, in 2018 the state passed a Capital Budget that included full funding to preserve the Blanchard core.

Governor Jay Inslee signed legislation to make the plan official in May 2019, and all that was left was some maneuvering by the state Board of Natural Resources, completed on October 1st of this year.

Now, it’s up to you, and future generations, to enjoy this amazing local destination, forever!

The area features popular hikes including Oyster Dome and Blanchard Mountain, mountain bike trails, scenic lakes and streams, and territorial views west to the San Juan Islands and east to Mount Baker and the Cascades. Patches of remnant old-growth forest remain after nearly three generations of logging.

Hikers enjoy the trail to Oyster Dome on Blanchard State Forest. Photo: Anna Hogenson.

The Forest also provides important habitat connectivity as the only place in Washington where the Cascade Mountains meet the Salish Sea. Its home to owls, marbled murrelets, black-tailed deer, endangered bats, and trout. The southernmost outpost of the Chuckanut Mountains, Blanchard Mountain, together with the Lake Whatcom watershed, helps connect the coast to the Cascades.

THANK YOU to everyone who helped preserve this special place! When we asked for your help, you made phone calls, wrote your representatives, showed up at meetings, and provided financial support. I’m proud to know that the permanent protection of the Blanchard core is something we’ve championed together.

Fall and even winter are glorious times to enjoy this local outdoor destination. I encourage you to give Blanchard Mountain a visit, and to take a moment to reflect on the power of determined people joining together and digging in to conserve the places we hold dear.

For the wild,

 

 

Mitch Friedman

Executive Director

P.S. Together we protected Blanchard Mountain, but there are more local places that urgently need conservation action. Please consider a tax-deductible gift of $35 or more today to enable our work protecting, connecting and restoring wildlands and wildlife. With your support, we can keep the Northwest wild!

The view from Blanchard Mountain, now protected forever for people and wildlife. Photo: Erin Moore