Trust land act big part of her legacy

Your retrospective on the political career of state Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen was an engaging and well-written look at one of our district’s longest serving legislators. (Thursday, “30 years of service.”)

The reporters, however, missed one of her most important legacies: the Trust Land Transfer Act of 1985. This legislation provided a method to preserve environmentally sensitive public school trust lands.

The issue had raged since 1977 when the Classic U old-growth forest on Whidbey Island was to be clearcut to fulfill its fate as an income-producing trust for its owners, the University of Washington.

A landmark lawsuit, the electorate’s ousting of the state’s land commissioner, sustained statewide news coverage and a groundbreaking negotiated agreement resulted in a 10-year agreement for all parties to find a solution to fund the permanent preservation of the 255 acres of rare lowland old growth. Funding it was the stumbling block.

Then-state Rep. Mary Margaret Haugen introduced House Bill 958 in 1985 that allowed property to be transferred between state agencies, preserving the environmentally sensitive land and selling assets from the replacement land to generate the needed — and expected — income for school construction. The Trust Land Transfer Act passed and was signed by Gov. Booth Gardner on April 30, 1985.

As of 2011, more than 116,000 acres of environmentally sensitive lands have been permanently conserved via the Trust Land Transfer Program and three-quarters of a billion dollars generated for state schools. In Snohomish County the Bear Creek Tree Farm, the Morning Star conservation area and 2,800 acres near Lake Roesiger are all preserved for us to appreciate and enjoy. In Island County, most DNR trust lands are now conserved after being handed over to local public agencies.

The Classic U forest? It’s now part of South Whidbey State Park.

In the years to come, this will surely be seen as a significant legacy of Sen. Haugen’s public service.

Sue Ellen White