While the idea of the Nisqually Community Forest dates back to 2010, it was just recently that the members of the Nisqually Land Trust were able to grow the land near Ashford.

Executive Director of the trust, Joe Kane, said groups of people have worked tirelessly to make the community forest a reality. He now hopes the community will take ownership of the land.

“We’re looking for and community-driven ideas,” he said. “Our goal is to be totally transparent. This is the first community forest in the Puget Sound and it’s becoming quite a movement nationally.”

Community forestry is a growing thought of forestry in which the community, and not large businesses in other countries, make decisions about timber management and the health of the forest and local watersheds. According to the Nisqually Land Trust’s own site, “in recent decades, ownership of these timberlands has grown more globalized, and they are now managed primarily for the benefit of shareholders located around the world. But they continue to have an enormous impact on local concerns, such as forestry jobs, the health of our rivers and wildlife habitat, and the scenic vistas that support our tourism and recreation economy.”

Kane said that talk of community-driven forests and local management bring environmentalists and pro-business concerns together. Even conservative counties in southern Washington are on board, and the state now has 20 community forests in one stage or another.

“This is not a federal land grab or something,” Kane said. “This is locally managed land by people who know it and love it.”

The Nisqually Community Forest bridges an important gap between the Gifford Pinchot National Forest and Elbe Hills State Forest, just above Ashford.

Kane and the Nisqually River Council started looking into community forestry after a national conference in 2010, where National Parks representatives and the Congressionally-funded Community Forest Program encouraged rural areas to apply for the status to take local ownership of forestlands.

The land will be conserved, but the Community Forest can produce timber during those conservation efforts. Kane said that during the Great Recession timberland was fairly recession proof.

Additionally, the land is appealing for its recreational use. The Eatonville Trail System and Mt. Tahoma ski trail run through the land, allowing mountain biking, hiking and cross country skiing.

“That’s a big economic driver,” Kane said.

And because it is community owned, the community can decide what to do with the land, including buying more, selling land or doing nothing at all.

One of the proponents of the Nisqually Community Forest is Washington’s Second Legislative District State Senator Randi Becker.

After a 2014 study by the Nisqually Tribe regarding Steelhead salmon recovery efforts in the watershed, a moratorium was placed on logging concerns until the impact could be studied.

“By maintaining this land, we could triple the creek flow in the watershed,” Kane said. “During the driest part of the year, trees suck up a lot of water. With older, bigger trees, that flow could increase in a steep creek three times.”

More water is good for salmon, obviously, so Kane and the Nisqually Land Trust are hoping this community forest might bring back some of the nearly eradicated Nisqually drainage salmon.

Local firms would be contracted to do logging to help maintain the forest. Currently, the community forest is on the hook for $750,000 over the next three years over the recent land purchase. Grant funding helped pay for the rest of the 1,920 acres just added near Ashford. A 4,500 acre block near the National Forests is currently in the project’s sights, but Kane said the group wants community input on how to move forward now.