Editorial: Pact on timber sale could protect Wallace Falls State Park

By The Herald Editorial Board

A compromise pitched by Snohomish County officials may end nearly a decade of disagreement and discussions over a timber sale near Wallace Falls State Park. The park features 4,735-acre of forestland northeast of Gold Bar that offers camping facilities and hiking trails that lead past Wallace Lake and Jay Lake to the park’s falls, including its namesake 265-foot falls and the Index Town Wall, a favorite of rock climbers.

For nearly 10 years, the state Department of Natural Resources, which manages state land east of the state park, has planned to auction 187 acres of second-growth timber, referred to as the Singletary sale.

The sale, however, has pitted two legitimate needs against each other.

The state is mandated to use state forestlands for resource production that supports the construction of public schools and provides revenue to counties and taxing districts that support fire departments, hospitals, libraries and other districts. When first proposed, the minimum bid on the timber sale was estimated at $1.8 million. The timber sales also provide employment to loggers, truck drivers and local mills.

Recreational and environmental groups, however, are concerned that the timber sale’s proximity will adversely affect the park, limit access by destroying trails in the state forestland and discourage visitors to the park. The proposed timber sale includes a small portion of the DNR’s Reiter Forest, where trails have been developed that connect to the state park’s trail system and for which Snohomish County has purchased property for trailhead parking.

Beyond environmental concerns, Sultan, Gold Bar and other east county communities have come to rely on the region’s recreational attractions because they, too, support jobs and contribute to the county’s $2 billion tourism industry.

In recent years, conservation and recreation groups have met with state and county officials to find a compromise between the competing concerns, a process outlined in a recent Herald guest commentary by representatives for the Pilchuck Audubon Society and Skykomish Valley Environmental and Economic Alliance. Stakeholders met as recently as November with plans to continue discussions, but at the start of the year, the DNR announced its plans to go ahead with the auction on Feb. 22.

Snohomish County commissioners, led by board member Sam Low have proposed a compromise, as reported by The Herald’s Noah Haglund, which was adopted unanimously by the board and joined by County Executive Dave Somers. The agreement asks the state to set aside 25 acres of the 187-acre sale near the state park’s eastern border, for at least four years.

Low took the proposed compromise to the state’s Commissioner of Public Land, Hillary Franz, who has said she will present it to the state’s Forest Practices Board at its meeting Tuesday before its final decision on the auction.

The state board should adopt the compromise and set aside the 25 acres as suggested for a minimum of four years.

As happens with compromise, everyone gets something, even if nobody is entirely satisfied.

Kristin Kelly, executive director of the Pilchuck Audubon Society, told The Herald that the compromise, while protecting 25 acres near the park, will open up about 1,500 to 2,000 other acres to timber harvest through the construction of roads and bridges for logging.

But that four-year window for the 25 acres provides an opportunity to permanently add that property, where trails already have been built, to Wallace Falls State Park.

If the proposal is adopted, Pilchuck Audubon, the east county communities and other groups should use the next four years to secure funding — perhaps using matching grants from the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program — to add the land to the state park.

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