County Council members back off timber-harvest land deal

A property transfer had been planned to protect popular hiking trails near Wallace Falls.

EVERETT — Snohomish County reversed course and now intends to ask the state to stop the process of transferring 25 acres of forest near Wallace Falls State Park to protect trails and view corridors from logging.

Council members took action Wednesday without advance notice. A walk-on resolution passed 3-2. It directs staff to draft paperwork informing the state Department of Natural Resources that the county no longer wants to receive part of the proposed Singletary harvest through a process known as reconveyance.

The transfer had been intended to break years of deadlock keeping a timber auction from moving ahead, as opposing factions pitted environmental and tourism priorities against the commercial value of the lumber.

“I worked hard last year to find a compromise for all the parties concerned to move forward on this sale that has been held up for more than 10 years — but progress has been stalled,” said County Councilman Sam Low, whose district covers the area.

Council Chairwoman Stephanie Wright and Councilman Brian Sullivan voted against the resolution.

The Singletary harvest covers 187 acres next to the popular hiking trails to Wallace Falls.

It’s part of the greater Reiter Foothills area that the DNR manages in trust for the county. Most of the money from timber auctions on the trust land goes to benefit county government, schools, fire protection, libraries and the local hospital district. Other parts of the foothills are set aside for wildlife habitat and outdoor recreation.

A timber company last year put in the winning bid of $1.7 million to harvest Singletary, minus the 25 acres. Three environmental groups sued to stop the harvest, arguing that new environmental studies were necessary to understand its changed size and contour. Snohomish County Superior Court Judge Millie Judge agreed and in August voided the sale.

DNR officials have since held meetings with the plaintiffs to discuss alternative forest practices that would leave more habitat and hiking access intact. A plan that’s being floated also would have the effect of reducing logging revenues by a third or more.

A spokesman for the agency, Bob Redling, issued a statement Friday:

“At this time, DNR managers are examining the implications of the Snohomish County Council’s recent and unexpected decision to withdraw its request to reconvey 25 acres of state-owned forest near the proposed Singletary harvest site to county ownership.

“There has been and continues to be a lot of community interest in management activities in this forest. DNR will be reaching out to local residents, county trust beneficiaries and the many others who have a stake in the future of this forested area.”

A Seattle-based environmental attorney who worked with the groups who sued the state over Singletary said he’s more interested in promoting new methods of forestry than in saving the 25 acres of transfer land. The larger issue for Peter Goldman and his allies is better managing harvests in the surrounding Reiter Foothills — and throughout DNR’s working forests.

“The 25 acres, while we were appreciative of it, really wouldn’t have solved the problem,” Goldman said. “It really was green lipstick on a pig.”

As those forestry discussions continue, it’s unclear whether the County Council’s action will have the intended effect of speeding up the Singletary sale.

“It’s time to get to work,” Low said. “We’ve been waiting a long time.”

The council’s resolution signaled a policy shift. It’s not the final word on the land transfer.

“The public will still have the opportunity to weigh in on it,” Low said. “This shows that the majority of the council is OK going this way, before we put the staff time into it.”

Noah Haglund: nhaglund@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @NWhaglund.

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