Fund saves urban forests, too

U.S. Sen. Patty Murray and U.S. Rep. Suzan DelBene stood in the forest with volunteers and other public officials among Douglas fir and western red cedar, sword ferns and vine maples, both Washington Democrats renewing calls for reauthorization of the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund.

The fund, created 50 years ago, uses fees paid by oil companies for offshore oil drilling leases, rather than taxpayer support, to fund grants and projects to safeguard natural areas and water resources, protect cultural heritage sites and farmland and provide recreational opportunities in all 50 states. The program, however, must be reauthorized before the end of September. With Congress not returning to work until after the Labor Day holiday, there’s little time left to get that work done.

Murray, noting it was good to come home to Washington state and breathe some fresh air, said she wished she could bring the entire Senate to where she stood to breathe some of that air.

The forest that was shading Murray, DelBene and others last week wasn’t in a national park or in a wildlife preserve or wilderness area. There are no campgrounds, no tourist attractions; yet the forest has benefitted from three grants from the Land and Water Conservation Fund, DelBene said.

The group stood in the North Creek Forest just a few hundred yards from a residential street in Bothell, Murray’s hometown. Its 63 acres are billed as Bothell’s Last Great Forest. Look at a map and it’s easy to see how it earned that designation: North Creek Forest is a thin oasis in a sea of development, bordered by I-405 to the east, neighborhoods to the west, Canyon Park Junior High School to the north and extending south into King County.

Logged a century ago — you can still see massive rotting stumps now feeding young trees — the forest is the last bit of undeveloped land in the area, and was threatened with development as late as the early 2000s. But an effort by the Friends of the North Creek Forest put hundreds of hours into advocating to save the forest and applying for grants and other fundraising that brought in $500,000, allowing the Bothell to purchase the first 35 acres in 2011. More land followed, and an effort remains to purchase another 22 acres in King County to further expand it, said Emily Sprong, the forest group’s executive director.

Not yet officially open until the Bothell parks and recreation department finishes a master plan, the North Creek Forest often sees volunteers who have been rehabilitating the forest, pulling out invasive ivy and other nonnative plants as well as removing decades of dumped debris. And, Sprong said, the forest already has provided an important resource to public schools for environmental field trips as well as for students at the nearby Bothell campus of the University of Washington and Cascadia College.

The forest also contributes to the health of its nearby namesake North Creek, filtering and cooling runoff that feeds the tributary of the Sammamish River and aids the health of salmon.

As a beneficiary of the conservation fund, the North Creek Forest isn’t as well known as Mount Rainier National Park or the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, but urban forests like North Creek are just as important to preserve because of their location and their more immediate effects on where we live and breathe. The Land and Water Conservation Fund is necessary to saving more like them.

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