Why the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s acquisition of Centralia Mine makes sense
Conservation Northwest / Sep 17, 2021 / Cascades to Olympics, Public Lands, WDFW
State acquisition of TransAlta property in Lewis County offers opportunity for public land access and wildlife habitat
By Brian Stewart
Over the last few months we have heard the opinions and fears of prominent Lewis County residents rejecting the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s proposed land acquisition of the degraded TransAlta Centralia Mine property. A few of the voiced concerns are legitimate, but most of them are born out of a lack of information, misunderstandings and preconceived biases.
As a humble and proud Lewis County resident and concerned citizen I believe that Lewis County officials should not reject or denounce something until they completely understand the issue. And I do not think rejecting something simply because you don’t like the Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), is the best way to represent the residents of our county.
First, the public needs to understand the facts, which have too often been clouded by hyperbole. For example, a recent quote from a Chronicle editorial “TransAlta wants more of our tax money to pay for the mess they’ve created” is not only factually incorrect, it exposes a type of subconscious bias.
The fact is, tax dollars will not be used to clean up any of the site. TransAlta cannot donate or sell the property until mitigation measures are complete, which means WDFW will not be responsible for the clean-up, nor will tax money be used in the effort. Furthermore, the previous quote admits something very telling: that TransAlta degraded and devastated the land with their extraction practices. Yet, that same voice insists that more of the same is what we need.
Second, this deal does not kill or stop jobs or development. The proposed acquisition includes a handful of parcels, parcels that can be developed for industry, those parcels are NOT a part of the deal, so development and jobs are still viable even if WDFW (representing the public) gets all of the proposed properties.
Furthermore, with a little vision and forward thinking, this land acquisition could spur jobs, potentially far more than a couple dozen for resource extraction. Jobs in restoration, conservation, wildlife management, outdoor recreation and hospitality can be created through this acquisition, and there is also likely to be an increase of business for retail stores in the area.
Third, the parcels that make up the target area are in fact a part of a large wildlife corridor, one that has been degraded and fragmented over the last 100 years. These lands are important for resident and migratory elk herds, for waterfowl and amphibians, and for a variety of other wildlife that residents of southwest Washington cherish.
The opportunity to protect, restore and hold in the public trust 25 percent of the land needed to connect habitat and wildlife between the Cascades, the Willapa Hills and the Olympic Peninsula and Olympics is unprecedented. With a rapidly changing climate, urban sprawl, and the ever increasing development pressures on the local environment, providing functioning wildlife corridors is essential. This acquisition could be a win-win for Lewis County, local tourism businesses, our state public lands, wildlife, and area residents.
Fourth, recreation and hunting opportunities have been drying up or been priced out for many residents. High-fees for accessing corporate timber lands, especially are slowly turning the outdoor life into something only for the privileged few. Lewis County needs more affordable opportunities to enjoy public land, and this acquisition can help facilitate that. Getting nature closer to city centers, and engaging in activities like education, research, recreation, and offering a sense of community are all things an acquisition like this can support if the county gets behind the deal and offers insight and advice on how to do it better, instead of being in unreasonable opposition.
What exactly are these voices opposing when it comes to this potential expansion of our public lands? Is it a community forest, a wildlife area, or habitat corridors? Lewis County has been living in the past by seeking large resource extracting companies to come in and save us but this is not going to happen, because those days are gone. So how do we evolve? How do we stay competitive?
I would argue that seeing moments like this one as opportunities for current and future Lewis County residents to feel connected to the land and have steady work should be pursued by local officials. At the least, they should understand the nuance and facts around the deal and oppose it for reasons based in reality, not hyperbole, logical fallacies, or ideological biases. If the vision for our region does not change, we will develop and extract our way into being an obsolete county with inadequate employment opportunities, low quality of life, and little incentive to live here.
We can do better. As wildlife and outdoor enthusiasts, hunters and anglers, and area residents interested in the future of our community and economy, we should support WDFW and TransAlta’s proposal to turn this former mine into flourishing public lands that provide outdoor recreation and wildlife. This is a win-win in the making.
Brian Stewart, M.E.S., is the Cascades to Olympics Program Coordinator for Conservation Northwest, a regional non-profit working with local communities and agencies to protect, connect and restore wildlife and wildlands. He lives and works in Lewis County.