A person sits and looks out at Mt. Index in Index, Washington on Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2023. (Annie Barker / The Herald)

A person sits and looks out at Mt. Index in Index, Washington on Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2023. (Annie Barker / The Herald)

Near Mt. Index, Forterra secures key piece in conservation puzzle

The nonprofit has been acquiring land in the region for decades. Now the project is complete, with funding from the county.

INDEX — Along the ridgeline of Mount Index, 102 acres of forestland with pockets of old growth groves sat unprotected — until last month.

The nonprofit Forterra recently acquired the land, filled with fir trees and hanging moss, and promised to preserve the area for wildlife.

This has been the goal for Forterra staff who have spent the past two years gathering money for this specific portion that rises to about 2,800 feet and sits close to the popular Lake Serene Trail. It was part of the nonprofit’s larger goal: to gradually acquire land near Mount Index and Lake Serene.

“This was the outstanding piece,” said Collette MacLean, lands program manager for Forterra.

With $220,000 from the Snohomish County Conservation Futures program, Forterra now manages hundreds of acres in the area.

Over 45,000 people hike the Lake Serene Trail every year, which crosses over land previously owned by lumber company Weyerhaeuser.

Forterra began acquiring land in the area after Weyerhaeuser announced plans to harvest mature timber on the company’s property. The process would have closed the Lake Serene Trail to hikers for at least nine months, according to Forterra’s website.

MacLean compared Forterra’s supervision of the property to the U.S. Forest Service’s management of Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest. Forterra, just like the Forest Service, preserves land for its ecological and recreational benefits, saving forests from timber production.

“This campaign addition protects a stretch of forest land that people on the climbing walls would see, folks driving along Highway 2 would see,” Forterra CEO Michelle Connor said.

Separated by U.S. 2, the Lake Serene site is within view of some of the most popular climbing locations in Index — and the state — including the Upper and Lower Town walls.

Forterra’s recent acquisition is relatively small, Connor said, but securing the property prevents private owners from developing it.

Collette MacLean, Lands Program Manager for Forterra, poses for a photo in Index, Washington on Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2023. (Annie Barker / The Herald)

Collette MacLean, Lands Program Manager for Forterra, poses for a photo in Index, Washington on Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2023. (Annie Barker / The Herald)

Connor said Forterra will continue to prioritize land conservation efforts throughout the U.S. 2 corridor.

“Anytime you can keep tracts of land in similar types of management, for similar types of public benefit,” she said, “it becomes very important.”

The recent acquisition comes after headlines about how the Snoqualmie Tribe accused Forterra last year of misleading the tribe and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

As The Seattle Times reported, the USDA gave Forterra $20 million last year for the nonprofit’s Forest to Home project, aiming to improve climate resiliency in the agricultural and timber sectors. The town of Darrington and Snohomish County were all listed as partners on the project, in addition to the Snoqualmie Tribe.

But Forterra never consulted with the tribe on the volume of timber products it proposed to manufacture from the tribe’s ancestral forests. The tribe withdrew its support from the project, and Forterra’s board apologized to the tribe.

Ta’Leah Van Sistine: 425-339-3460; taleah.vansistine@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @TaLeahRoseV.

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