Singletary sale draws suit

Local environmental groups challenge DNR forest land deal

Kelly Sullivan

The Singletary timber sale is complete, but a lawsuit filed against the Department of Natural Resources by local environmentalists at the end of May aims to pause logging.

Washington Forest Law Center attorney and director Peter Goldman is acting as spokesperson for the Friends of Wild Sky, the Pilchuck Audubon Society and the Skykomish Valley Environmental & Economic Alliance (SVENA). He said the three organizations want the state agency to take another look at the land.

“They need to conduct an environmental review of the clear cut, in light of the county’s requisition of 25 acres,” Goldman said.

Chuck Lie, who represents SVENA, said the three groups have proposed working with DNR to come up with an alternative plan that would result in less impact on the forest, as well as current and future trail systems.

“Our proposal included having foresters and landscape architects look at the harvest in that area,” he said. “It would change the harvest practices so there is less impact, and rely more on selective cutting. The harvesting would not stop; it would just shift in its focus.”

However, the state’s stance is that it has done enough already.

“A great deal of work has gone into finding a solution around the Singletary sale that satisfies, to the best of our ability, DNR’s trust mandate, the health of the habitat and providing ample recreational opportunities in the area,” said Deputy Supervisor of State Uplands Angus Brodie in a prepared statement.

Brodie said the Singletary auction has been planned for almost 10 years. The Board of Natural Resources had planned to vote on the sale prior to when Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz took office in November, he said.

The area in question is located adjacent to the heavily visited Wallace Falls State Park in DNR’S Reiter Forest, roughly five miles north of Gold Bar. Originally, the swath was set to sell as a 187-acre block.

District 5 Councilmember Sam Low worked with Franz last winter to develop a joint resolution supported by the council and County Executive Dave Somers. The motion encouraged DNR to remove 25 acres that surrounded trails from the sale. The Washington State Board of Natural Resources subsequently voted to maintain the original sale. In response, the council overrode the decision through a conveyance process and took back management of the 25 acres.

“When our local community reaches a compromise over contentious public issues, we will follow through on achieving that compromise,” Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers had said.

An auction of the timber has been discussed since about 2008. The county owns the land, and DNR manages it.

Three companies bid Wednesday, May 24, on the remaining acres, according to an email from DNR spokesman Bob Redling. The sale came one day after the lawsuit was filed.

The minimum allowed bid was $956,000, according to Redling, and Sierra Pacific Industries, the United States’ second-largest lumber producer, put in the highest offer at more than $1.32 million. The California-based business operates a mill in Burlington, plus others in Washington.

Goldman said a first hearing of the case will likely be scheduled sometime this month in Snohomish County Superior Court, where the lawsuit was filed by Wyatt F. Golding.

“The goal is to protect these lands and do what makes sense for the people of Snohomish County and the region,” Goldman said.

It is believed by the environmental groups that the clear cut will too greatly impact the potential for a thriving local tourism industry; that it won’t kill the local recreation economy, but it is a significant step backward, Golman said. It will take another 80 years for the forest to again look how it does today, he said.

“I think that Monroe and Sultan and Gold Bar have tremendous potential to be recreational meccas for Everett and Seattle,” Goldman said.

Brodie stated the 25-acre chunk is enough to preserve the existing park and trails, and Franz and the agency will also work closely with the community to carry out the Reiter Foothills Recreation Plan, which will increase public access in the forest.

“In fact, by maintaining working forests next to the park, we’re able to uphold a broader set of values including recreational access and new trails,” according to Brodie. “Hikers, bikers and horseback riders will all be served by the trail improvements planned. Also, the timber from this harvest will provide vital resources to the county for schools, hospitals, county infrastructure and more.”

Of the roughly $1.3 million made from the Singletary sale, the state will take about 25 percent, and the county will take about 75 percent, Redling wrote. DNR will use its portion “for land management activities related to generating revenue such as laying out the sale, marking boundaries, protecting streams and wetlands, replanting trees, and caring for the land.”

Redling wrote about $150,000 will go to Snohomish County Roads, and $210,000 will to go the state school levy general fund. The Sultan School District will receive about $400,000 for maintenance and operations, but the sum will be deducted from districts’ state apportionment funding, he wrote.

Smaller portions will go to the Fire District 26 EMS, the Sno-Isle Library system, the Valley General Hospital and others, Redling wrote. Those numbers could change.

“It’s important to note that the funds are distributed based on the formula for the year that the trees are harvested in, and that the funds are distributed as the timber is harvested,” he wrote. “So, if the company harvests half and in one year and half in another, the funds would come in separate chunks and distribution between years could be different.”

Lie said SVENA, Friends of Wild Sky and the Pilchuck Audubon Society believe the county’s junior taxing districts and beneficiaries of the sale could still receive necessary revenue, even if the harvest is redesigned.

“Our plan does less visual damage, maintains the logging that helps support the junior taxing districts, and reduces the visual impact to preserve the recreational opportunity that probably brings in far more money to the local economy over a sustained period of time,” he said.

When asked if Sierra Pacific will wait for a ruling on the lawsuit, company spokeswoman Lisa Perry said a timeline for preparation and logging has not been developed yet.

Perry said the majority of the harvest will be processed at the Burlington mill, which employs about 200 people.

The harvest must be complete by Sept. 30, 2020.


Photo by Kelly Sullivan: A lawsuit filed against the Department of Natural Resources by local environmental groups aims at pausing logging in the Reiter Forest adjacent to the heavily visited Wallace Falls State Park.


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