INDEX — The state Department of Natural Resources auctioned timber on 119 acres of state land near here for $1.41 million on Wednesday.
The sale of the trees in an area known as the “Deer Wrap” was approved in 2014. But the state halted the process earlier this year after an environmental group in Seattle raised concern about what it called potentially unstable slopes below the harvest area.
The Washington Forest Law Center said logging the site might compromise the safety of people nearby because fewer trees would likely mean more saturated ground, which could cause a slope to slide.
“We think it’s a dangerous place” to log, said Peter Goldman, managing attorney of the nonprofit Forest Law Center.
The western hemlocks and Douglas firs to be cut are on a mountainside above U.S. 2, a railroad line, Forks of the Sky State Park, the North Fork Skykomish River and popular rock climbing walls northwest of Index.
The town of Index also raised concerns about the timber sale.
“We took very seriously the public comment received about this harvest, as we do with all timber sales,” Jean Fike, Northwest Region Manager for DNR, said in a written statement. “After thorough scrutiny of potential impacts, we felt confident in moving ahead with the sale.”
A state panel approved logging the area last month after officials said there was little risk it would trigger a slide.
On Wednesday, Interfor Corporation, one of the largest lumber producers in the world, outbid two other companies for the timber. The Vancouver, British Columbia-based company got the lumber for $321 per million board feet. A board-foot is a piece of wood 1-foot square and one inch thick.
The Deer Wrap site is expected to produce 4.339 billion board feet of lumber. Interfor has until Sept. 30, 2017, to cut the trees.
Statewide, the Department of Natural Resources manages 2.1 million acres of trust land that generates income and is used for recreation.
Of the $1.41 million revenue from the Deer Wrap sale, $661,876 is to go to a Washington State University trust; $268,772 to the state’s K-12 school trust; $122,323 to Snohomish County; and $5,185 for DNR land management. DNR also gets $352,719 for administrative costs.
Goldman, of the Forest Law Center, said he wants the state to find a new way to pay for public programs that has fewer safety risk. He’d prefer one that wouldn’t take from the natural beauty of the land or hurt businesses along U.S. 2 that depend on traffic from those with outdoor recreation interests.
DNR is required by law to generate revenue with public trust lands, but the policy could be changed, Goldman said.
“It’s a dumb system that the powers that be don’t want to change,” he said.