GOLD BAR — A 160-acre swath of forest next to Wallace Falls State Park will soon be cut for timber, in spite of outcry against felling the trees.
The state Department of Natural Resources on Monday sold the so-called Middle May harvest to Sierra Pacific Industries for nearly $3.15 million.
“I haven’t started crying yet, but I promise there’s going to be some tears when they start to cut those trees,” said Chuck Lie, a resident of nearby Gold Bar for 20 years. “That’s a real special forest.”
The group argued that a clear-cut so close to the heavily trafficked Wallace Falls State Park would ruin the Reiter Foothills’ potential as an outdoor recreation destination. Instead, they proposed a 5,300-acre county park.
On Nov. 20, the Sauk-Suiattle Tribe sent a letter to state Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz requesting a three-month delay of the sale — enough time to discuss the possibility of the county conveying the land from DNR. The county technically owns the land, but DNR manages it.
“I think there should have been a better effort by the county to discuss the options for that property,” Lie said.
In October, the tribe found a large number of culturally significant trees, waterfalls and plants in the potential park area.
The Tulalip Tribes told The Daily Herald in August that they oppose a potential county park.
“We’ve been working with the Tulalip Tribes, they’re very active in that landscape,” County Councilmember Sam Low said.
Over 1,180 acres of timber sales are planned in the Reiter Foothills over the next five years. Most of the harvests have been years in the making and have the potential to generate millions of dollars for junior taxing districts like schools, fire departments, libraries, hospitals and other community services. The Sultan School District is one of the largest beneficiaries.
“I think the (Middle May) sale is great for all the junior taxing districts,” Low said.
The Middle May harvest will employ a technique called “variable retention harvest,” which can leave as few as eight trees per acre. Work can begin as soon as the contract with Sierra Pacific Industries is complete.
The concept of a park is still a possibility, said Irene Nash, one of the Sky Valley Future organizers.
“The Middle May clear-cut takes some of the heart out of the park, but there’s a lot to be gained by preserving that area overall,” she said.
But County Councilmember Megan Dunnsaid a park is unlikely.
“It is evident from my conversations that there is not a solution that all can agree on to reconvey over 5,000 acres, nor was there interest from county council members to pursue a reconveyance at this time,” she said via email. “This conflict is evidence of the larger issue that our forests are managed to prioritize maximizing profit for our schools, roads and other secondary taxing beneficiaries, which is at odds with sustainable ecosystem management.”