Trust assures Whidbey forestland will endure

LANGLEY — When Harry Case was in his early teens, he went with his family on a trip into the Cascades and saw a forest that had been clear cut.

“I got disgusted,” said Case, now 84. He vowed to own a chunk of forest land that he could preserve.

A few years later, in 1946, he bought that piece of land: 176 acres on Whidbey Island, about three miles west of Langley. He paid $5 an acre — $880, or about $11,000 today.

“You couldn’t find that now,” he said.

All this time, Case, who retired 20 years ago as a trombone player for the Seattle Symphony, has kept his promise to himself.

He’s thinned the trees periodically and sold the timber, but kept the forest intact. A Seattle resident, he’s never built anything larger on the property than a tiny, rudimentary cabin.

A few years ago, he put his vow into law by placing the property into a conservation trust with the Whidbey Camano Land Trust. Case led several trust members and other interested people on a walking tour of the property on Wednesday.

Under his legal agreement with the group, Case can thin the forest and even do annual, small cuts that mimic natural blowdowns. But he can’t build anything more than a new cabin to replace the current one.

At no time in the future can the land be developed, either by Case, his descendants or anyone to whom they may sell the property. Local zoning would have allowed it to be subdivided into lots for a total of 35 homes, according to the land trust group.

“In 50 years, 100 years, the property’s still going to be a working forest,” said Jessica Larson, a stewardship associate with the Whidbey Camano Land Trust, based in Greenbank.

Case’s property is the largest single piece of land to be placed into conservation with the land trust, officials said.

The forest isn’t open to the public, primarily for liability reasons, but Case and land trust officials lead tours every so often. It’s possible that someday in the future it could be opened up.

“Just to see this amount of woods preserved is really fantastic,” said Elizabeth Davis of Freeland, who took the tour on Wednesday.

The land trust has preserved a total of about 7,000 acres of forest, farmland and tidelands on Whidbey and Camano islands, mostly through conservation agreements or purchase. This includes the 664-acre Trillium property on Whidbey, which the group was able to buy for $4.2 million in 2010 to save it from development. The group raises money through membership dues and grants.

Case’s property was logged around 1918, he said, so the forest is second growth. It has a few larger trees, including one cedar estimated to be about 400 years old. Several wetlands also are located on the property.

Elizabeth Guss, the land trust’s outreach director, said Case showed his appreciation to the group for helping him preserve the land.

“He brought flowers to the office and said, ‘Thank you for making my dream come true.’”

Bill Sheets: 425-339-3439; sheets@heraldnet.com.

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