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Board of Natural Resources unanimously approves contested Middle May Sale

By Erin Freeman | Lynnwood Times Staff

Editor’s Note: Green outline is Wallace Falls State Park. Yellow border is the proposed new Wild Wallace County Park. Light red areas are planned timber sales. Dark red areas are already sold. Photo courtesy of Sky Valley Future.

The controversial Middle May Timber harvest unanimously received the go ahead from the Board of Natural Resources on Tuesday, September 1. The land is in Reiter Foothills State Forest which is adjacent to the city of Gold Bar and Wallace Falls State Park, with some in the local community calling for the area to be developed into a public park.

Timber harvesting continues inside of the 10,000-acre Reiter Foothills Forest, a working forest managed for timber harvest and revenue production while also providing habitat for native plants and animals and recreation opportunities. “In the [Washington State Department of Natural Resources] we strongly believe that we have a model of sustainable both forest management and recreation… in Reiter Forest,” said Angus Brodie, Deputy Supervisor of State Uplands.

Over the next five years, the Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) plans to harvest 1,180 acres of forest in the Reiter Foothills through seven timber sales, with proceeds distributed to Snohomish County and Sultan’s School District, fire districts, hospital and library.

The Middle May Timber sale is a deal expected to generate $1.9 million through more than 9 million board feet of timber harvested from 160 acres between March 2021 through October 2025. The area will be replanted, according to DNR.

Revenue from the sale would benefit schools, local infrastructure, fire district, hospital, and library. 

“The revenue generated from these trust lands is critical to our operations,” said Dan Chaplik, superintendent of the Sultan School District. “Over the next four-year budget cycle, we have budgeted $550,000 per year for critical repairs, student learning materials, and other facilities needs that are not covered by state funding, based on recent revenues received from these lands.

“Over the past two decades, the Sultan School District has received nearly $7.8 million from these lands, which has helped us complete many important projects in our school district and softened the burden for our taxpayers in our property-poor area.”

With Middle May’s harvest contract expected to be bid on this coming November, a local group against logging in Sky Valley dubbed Sky Valley Future, insists that heavy logging in the forest will damage decades of future economic and environmental opportunities in Gold Bar and had urged for the vote this week to be postponed. The DNR board, after listening to Public testimony, postponed the sale an extra month to the end of November. This would allow Sky Valley Future some time to push their proposal.

Sky Valley Future is proposing that 5,300 acres of the 10,000-acre forest be reconveyed from DNR’s management to Snohomish County for use as a public park, arguing that the increased recreation revenue will be much more profitable long-term. The citizen group hopes postponement of the sale was to allow sufficient time for the council to fully evaluate the reconveyance, and for the public to have an opportunity to provide informed comment.

Their envisioned Wild Wallace County Park, hopes to improve and expand the recreational experience for Wallace Falls State Park visitors, protect the ecosystem and property values of residential homes in Gold Bar through preserving views, according to the Sky Valley Future website.

Some community members have further voiced concern about potential harmful economic and ecological effects in the Gold Bar surrounding area if DNR proceeds with future planned timber harvesting, while others supporting the harvesting cite similar detrimental impact without it.

The Tulalip Tribes has expressed opposition to the reconveyance of the management of the logging land to create a public park, asserting that doing so would infringe upon treaty rights and impose ecological distress.

Teri Gobin, Chairwoman of the Tulalip Tribes Board of Directors, says that their co-management with the state of the Reiter Foothills through the DNR has been an integral part of the tribes’ exercise of its treaty reserved rights, furthering that they serve to maintain a balance in the ecosystem and preserve wildlife.

“The Tulalip Tribes is opposed to this reconveyance because we know it means our people will lose access to that land forever,” said Gobin. “We do not believe that the county can manage our ancestral lands to a standard that would satisfy the obligations made to the tribes during the signing of the treaty.”

In January, the Snohomish County Council passed a resolution supporting the Middle May timber harvest 3-2, with Councilmembers Megan Dunn and Stephanie Wright in opposition.

Joining council in April, Councilmember Jared Mead was not involved in this vote.

Councilmembers Sam Low and Nate Nehring both support the Middle May Timber sale and DNR’s planned harvesting activity in the Reiter Foothills, saying that working forests support the economy and environment. Other councilmembers did not respond to comment about the Reiter Foothills timber sale.

“The DNR’s working forest model balances the needs of the junior taxing districts and recreational opportunities while protecting environmentally sensitive areas,” said Nehring in a statement.

“The key is balance, I support working forests and I support the experts on the ground here locally for DNR who manage this landscape for habitat, forest health, and the potential for wildfires/search and rescue,” added Low.

Addressing calls for the reconveyance, Nehring and Low say that the Snohomish County Parks Department does not have the resources to manage a park of this magnitude being proposed, especially amidst a pandemic. The recreational opportunities this group wants to see can be achieved with DNR’s working forest plan, says Nehring.

No resolution to support the reconveyance to date has been put forward by any councilmember, says Low, despite it being his understanding that the group behind the proposed reconveyance approached 3 members on the County Council (Districts 2,3 and 4) with their idea over the past 3 months.

“The Middle May timber sale is the result of a comprehensive community engagement process and reflects the input of tribes, recreationists, conservationists, trust beneficiaries, and community leaders,” said Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz, the elected official who oversees DNR in a press release on September 1.

“By moving forward in a sustainable and environmentally sound manner, we are able to provide financial support to public schools, create new recreation opportunities and family-wage jobs, and preserve the treaty rights of tribes that have used these lands since time immemorial.”

Franz added, “Tribal support for this sale was a key factor in moving forward. We cannot lift up tribal voices when it suits our purposes, and then ignore them when it is inconvenient.”

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