20,000-Plus-Acre Puget Sound Forest Conservation Project Completed
More than 6,000 acres of working forestlands at the southern reach of Puget Sound will be forever protected from development, The Trust for Public Land, Green Diamond Resource Company and Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) announced today.
The protection of 6,129 acres of Mason County forestland adds to previous conservation efforts in the area, totaling 20,400 acres of forests located between Hood Canal and Case Inlet that are now protected from development. The area will remain in active timber production, protecting water quality and wildlife habitat. It will also be available to the public for hiking, mountain biking and other outdoor recreation.
This is the third phase of the protection of this property, which began in 2016 with a project conserving 6,967 acres. In 2018, a second phase protected 7,391 acres, while the third phase announced today protects 6,129 acres. With two metropolitan areas only a half-hour away and with high demand for affordable home sites across the Puget Sound region, the land was highly vulnerable to subdivision and development.
“We have seen during this pandemic just how vital access to the outdoors is for Washingtonians’ mental and physical well-being,” said David Patton, northwest director for The Trust for Public Land. “This project truly represents a win-win by providing access to the outdoors while also protecting working forests. We are proud to have worked with partners over many years to make this project a reality.”
The land is owned by Green Diamond Resource Company, a Washington-based privately held forest products company. Green Diamond will continue to manage it under a conservation easement that guarantees the land will never be developed and will be open for public recreation. Green Diamond’s lands in Washington state are managed under a Habitat Conservation Plan to protect 51 aquatic and terrestrial species while allowing for forest management.
“Our company has managed forest lands in Mason County for 130 years, and we are pleased that these projects will help to protect the industry and our rural economy for the future,” said Blayde Fry, vice president and general manager at Green Diamond Resource Company.
The conservation easement was appraised and purchased for $5.033 million. Funding for the purchase came entirely from the USDA Forest Service Forest Legacy Program, which is designed to protect environmentally sensitive privately-owned forestlands that are threatened by conversion to non-forest uses. The easement will be held by DNR, which will be responsible for long-term monitoring and enforcement of its restrictions.
The Forest Legacy Program funding comes from the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), the federal government’s main source of funding to protect land. LWCF, which was created by Congress in 1964, is funded not through taxes, but through royalties paid by energy companies for offshore gas and oil drilling. Thanks to the support of Washington’s congressional delegation, LWCF was permanently reauthorized in 2019 and fully funded earlier this year in the Great American Outdoors Act, making more projects like this possible in the future.
“The importance of preserving forestland along Puget Sound cannot be overstated, and the Forest Legacy Program has been a vital tool to for that work for nearly three decades,” said Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz, the elected official who oversees DNR. “Across Washington state, more than 70,000 acres of forests threatened by development will instead remain on the landscape forever through this program, and I’m excited to see that number has grown by 6,000 more acres today.”
“I fought hard to ensure federal programs that help protect Washington state’s rich natural resources and public lands are permanently funded, and I’m so glad to see these resources once again flow to conserve our working forests in Mason County that are so vital to the economy, environment, and way of life for so many families and communities in South Sound,” said U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee.
Senator Maria Cantwell added, “The Land and Water Conservation Fund is critical to protecting public lands, clean air, and clean water throughout our country. The successful South Puget Sound Coastal Forest project protects over 20,400 acres of forest land from Hood Canal to Case Inlet. This project is a perfect example of why I fought to permanently reauthorize and fully fund the LWCF and why we must fight to protect our forests to ensure future generations are able to enjoy the same recreation opportunities we have today.”
“Protecting over 20,400 acres of working forestlands in Mason County will support public recreation and regional timber jobs, which are both major contributors to our region’s economy,” said U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer. “In addition, this project will help protect water quality in our region and ensure that we protect our salmon and shellfish – and the local jobs that depend on them. I’m proud to have helped secure the federal funds to make this project happen – and I’m grateful that the Trust for Public Land continues building partnerships like this to help our region make real progress in the effort to conserve our public lands while supporting local economies.”
The healthy, productive waters for salmon and shellfish protected by this project are important for the Squaxin Island Tribe’s way of life.
“The easement, along with the responsible forest management we have come to expect from Green Diamond, will help protect water quality and conserve habitat to sustain the long-term treaty resources for future generations,” said Kris Peters, chairman of the Squaxin Island Tribe
The project will also benefit the local shellfish industry. Securing a conservation easement on the property helps protect downstream water quality for shellfish on 1,400 acres of tidelands for more than 20 shellfish companies and 2,000 recreational and tribal harvesters.
“This conservation easement is a critical step in helping to protect the water quality in the nearby inlets,” said Bill Taylor, president of Taylor Shellfish. “The easement will help to ensure that these inlets will continue to produce shellfish for tribal harvesters, recreational harvesters and shellfish farmers. The easement will not only benefit the environment in the long term but also the local economy,” he concluded.
About the partners
The Trust for Public Land’s mission is to create parks and protect land for people, ensuring healthy, livable communities for generations to come. Millions of people live within a 10-minute walk of a Trust for Public Land park, garden, or natural area, and millions more visit these sites every year. To learn more, visit www.tpl.org.
Green Diamond Resource Company is a privately held forest products company that owns and manages working forest lands in the Pacific Northwest and the U.S. South. Learn more about Green Diamond Resource Company at www.greendiamond.com.
Administered by Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz, DNR manages more than 5.6 million acres of state-owned forest, range, commercial, agricultural, conservation, and aquatic lands throughout Washington state. Of these, more than half are held in trust to produce income to support public schools, universities, prisons, and other state institutions. State trust lands managed by DNR provide other public benefits, including outdoor recreation, habitat for native fish and wildlife, and watersheds for clean water.