A view of the hillside where the proposed Middle May timber harvest would take place near Gold Bar. (Olivia Vanni / Herald file)

A view of the hillside where the proposed Middle May timber harvest would take place near Gold Bar. (Olivia Vanni / Herald file)

Contested timber sale near Gold Bar approved but delayed

The state Board of Natural Resources is giving Snohomish County 90 days to stop the Middle May timber harvest.

GOLD BAR — Snohomish County has 90 days to stop a contested 160-acre timber harvest next to Wallace Falls State Park.

The state Board of Natural Resources voted unanimously Tuesday to approve the Middle May timber sale, but Commissioner Hilary Franz delayed the harvest’s auction from October to late November after nearly two hours of divisive public comment about the sale.

Last month, a group called Sky Valley Future requested that the county reconvey 5,300 acres in the Reiter Foothills from the Department of Natural Resources and turn it in to a county park.

Snohomish County owns the land, but the DNR manages it. Reconveying it would mean the county takes back control of the forest.

The proposed area, called Wild Wallace, encompasses the Middle May harvest area.

On Tuesday, those in support of Middle May bemoaned further delays. The forest east of Wallace Falls has been slated for harvest for years.

Tension over the Reiter Foothills Forest peaked with the Singletary harvest in 2017, when three environmental groups sued to stop the logging.

DNR reworked Singletary into the Middle May harvest. It would employ mostly what’s called “variable retention harvest,” which can leave as few as eight trees per acre.

The logging could net about $1.7 million for the county and junior taxing districts, including local school districts, fire departments and libraries.

The Sultan School District is one of the largest beneficiaries.

A small bridge crosses over a creek in the proposed Middle May sale near Gold Bar. (Olivia Vanni / Herald file)

A small bridge crosses over a creek in the proposed Middle May sale near Gold Bar. (Olivia Vanni / Herald file)

Superintendent Dan Chaplik said the district counts on about $400,000 per year on average from harvest sales.

“We need classrooms where the roofs don’t leak,” school board chair Russ Sumpter said.

But some locals, as well as people who hike, bike and climb in the Reiter Foothills, think the land is better suited as a park.

A Sky Valley Future petition to stop logging next to Wallace Falls State Park and turn the land into a public park has over 2,800 signatures, according to the group.

On Tuesday, proponents of reconveyance were united in asking for one thing: more time.

They requested six months to consult stakeholders like the Tulalip Tribes, equestrians and others.

A map outlining the three units of Middle May, a 160-acre timber harvest planned for 2020 year near Gold Bar. (Washington State Department of Natural Resources)

A map outlining the three units of Middle May, a 160-acre timber harvest planned for 2020 year near Gold Bar. (Washington State Department of Natural Resources)

“Middle May was only approved at the end of January 2020 and we have been in the middle of a pandemic and have had no ability for public comment other than a handful of DNR meetings,” said Sam Chesley, one of the Sky Valley Future organizers.

The Board of Natural Resources can’t consider starting the reconveyance process in the Reiter Foothills unless it’s formally brought to them by the county council. That hasn’t happened yet.

“If Snohomish County wants to reconvey this land, we will work with them in that process,” Franz said.

She agreed to a 30-day extension on Middle May’s auction date after board member Chris Reykdal suggested it. But Franz expressed concern about how reconveyance could impact the Tulalip Tribes, which released a statement last month opposing the move.

“My belief is that we cannot ignore (the fact) the Tulalip tribes unequivocally opposes the reconveyance of this land because of the effect it would have on their treaty rights,” Franz said.

Snohomish County council member Sam Low said the delay is a nice compromise to give more time for community discussion.

Sky Valley Future organizer Irene Nash said the group will use the next 90 days to work with county and tribal governments “in the hope that we can find a path that preserves this magnificent forest in a way that fully recognizes all Treaty rights.”

That clock is now ticking for Snohomish County to make a decision.

The 160 acres of trees go to auction Nov. 30.

Julia-Grace Sanders: 425-339-3439; jgsanders@heraldnet.com.

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