Sky Valley logging plans draw criticism

GOLD BAR — Three sites slated to be logged near here have drawn the ire of conservationists.

Concerns about forest practices and the state selling timber to be cut by the highest bidder have spurred a new nonprofit.

Inessa Pearce, of Startup, has been talking to neighbors and voicing concerns to city and state leaders. She had the Skykomish Valley Environmental and Economic Alliance registered as a nonprofit last month.

Pearce drummed up support from almost 300 people with an online petition to stop what she calls excessive logging near Wallace Falls State Park.

Jean Fike, manager of the Northwest region for the Department of Natural Resources, said logging might seem concentrated in the Sky Valley but there are limits on how much timber can be cut in one area.

“It’s important to understand these harvests are not on park land,” she said. “Trust lands are designated to earn money for the public.” The three sites to be harvested near Gold Bar are part of almost 3 million acres of state trust land the department manages. It is legally obligated to generate revenue for counties, schools, hospitals, libraries and other public agencies with its trust lands. The money from the planned timber harvests would benefit Snohomish County, local taxing districts and the state.

Pearce, a Russian translator for the Monroe and Northshore school districts, said the benefit doesn’t outweigh the damage to the local economy from the loss of tourism. She also rents cabins to travelers at her place along Sultan Startup Road, near a now barren hillside that was logged a few years ago.

“There’s a lot of logging going on and tourists don’t like it,” she said.

Pearce wants the state to leave more trees when it thins forests.

The state is taking public comment on a 116-acre timber harvest known as the “Dyno” sale until Jan. 19. The proposed site is 2 miles east of Gold Bar. The estimated value for the timber has yet to be determined, said Bob Redling, Department of Natural Resources spokesman.

Another 187-acre timber harvest, known as the “Singletary” sale, was approved in 2014. The auction was delayed after conservation groups and county officials shared their worries about preserving Wallace Falls and the state park, and protecting trails that are being built in the Reiter Foothills Forest area.

Fike said the state plans to move forward with the sale. The timber was appraised at $1.8 million in 2014, but that figure is likely to change by the time it is auctioned, she said.

The state doesn’t have an estimate of when that might happen. It is waiting for a permit from the county to build a bridge over May Creek before proceeding with the sale.

The state auctioned timber on a 129-acre site known as “Moonbeam” in April for about $422,000. The buyer has until Sept. 30, 2017 to cut the timber on the property, located about 3 miles northeast of Gold Bar.

Pearce is also concerned about the use of pesticides. She sent a letter dated Dec. 29 to state, county and city officials and a timber company protesting spraying of chemicals in Sky Valley.

She’s been worried about her well water and pollution since the state allowed the timber company Springboard Wallace Falls to use a helicopter to spray pesticides over about 1,000 acres near her home in September.

Stephen Bernath is chairman of the Forest Practices Board, which regulates the spraying of pesticides along with other state and federal agencies. He said strict rules are in place to make sure public health is not “significantly damaged” when chemicals are used.

Bernath pointed out that the chemicals Pearce is concerned about are all approved pesticides and they were applied in compliance with the law. Chemicals that seep into groundwater are not used in areas where that might be a problem, he said.

There’s a state Senate workshop on the use of pesticides and herbicides on state lands at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday in Olympia. Pearce and officials from the Forest Practices Board plan to take part in the meeting.

Amy Nile: 425-339-3192; anile@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @AmyNileReports.

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