Judge halts timber sale near Wallace Falls State Park

GOLD BAR — A Snohomish County judge has voided a state timber sale near Wallace Falls State Park and ordered the Department of Natural Resources to perform more environmental studies.

That could prevent any logging on the Singletary tract until next year, unless the agency completes its analysis within weeks so that road construction can start before the rainy season.

“The question now is if the DNR is going to rush it through, or are they going to take the time to work through a more holistic plan?” said Peter Goldman, an environmental attorney working with the groups that sued the state. “We’re hoping for the latter.”

The Singletary sale went to auction in May. Three environmental groups promptly sued to stop the logging of 166 acres. At issue was the decision this past spring to remove more than 20 acres from the harvest to protect trails and scenery around the popular state park near Gold Bar. The area removed from the sale is set to become county parkland.

The suit was filed by the Pilchuck Audubon Society, Friends of the Wild Sky and the Skykomish Valley Environmental & Economic Alliance.

The state had performed its required environmental studies on the larger parcel. The changed contours of the sale, the plaintiffs argued, meant it should have been reexamined.

Snohomish County Superior Court Judge Millie Judge agreed. Her Aug. 11 ruling orders the DNR to perform a study called a threshold determination.

“They tried to sneak it through as a smaller timber sale,” Goldman said. “The court said this is not just a smaller sale. It’s a whole new setting, a whole new sale.”

Among other factors, that includes looking at the impact of logging trucks running through a county park. The court ruling also specified that trees on the county land can’t be counted toward the total that need to be left uncut in the harvest area.

The agency has yet to decide whether to appeal or to go ahead with the environmental work, a spokesman said. It’s unclear how long any potential environmental analysis would take.

The Singletary harvest is trust land managed by the state to generate revenue for local and state governments. Sierra Pacific Industries of Anderson, California, put in the winning bid of $1.7 million.

In June, the DNR estimated that the state schools budget would have netted nearly $800,000 from the sale. The county would have gotten $193,000 for roadbuilding and another $114,000 for general operations. The local fire district, Sno-Isle Libraries, Valley General Hospital and Sultan schools each were in line for smaller portions. The DNR was set to keep a 25 percent management fee.

Logging the Singletary tract is an expensive proposition that requires building roads and bridges. With that infrastructure in place, loggers would have easier access to an additional 1,500 acres of nearby state-managed forest.

Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465; nhaglund@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @NWhaglund.

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