South Puget Sound Coastal Forest
The Trust for Public Land, Green Diamond Resource Company, and Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) worked together to protect approximately 20,000 acres of private forest lands in Mason County, Washington, at the southwestern end of Puget Sound. The land is protected for active timber production as well as water quality and wildlife habitat. It is available to the public for hiking, mountain biking, and other outdoor recreation. This partnership already protected over 14,000 acres in the first two phases of the South Puget Sound Coastal Forest project. Phase 3 closed at the end of 2020. Without protection, this land, owned by Green Diamond Resource Company, a privately held forest products company, would have been at serious risk of development due to population pressure from nearby metropolitan areas. Protected, this working forest supports the economy of one of Washington state’s lowest per capita income counties and critical habitat for federally listed threatened and endangered species.
Without a Forest Legacy-funded conservation easement held by DNR, the land, which could have been developed into 1,100 home sites, was highly vulnerable to subdivision and development due to high demand for affordable home sites from two metropolitan areas located only a half hour away.
The South Puget Sound Coastal Forest project ties into surrounding conservation initiatives and complements nearby protected lands. On completion it created a 10-mile long conservation corridor connecting the project’s 20,000 acres to over 24,000 acres of state, local, and private lands. The project also implemented conservation strategies and initiatives of multiple federal, state, and local agencies, including objectives to protect habitat for federally listed fish species and preserve water quality for downstream shellfish tidelands, especially in the face of climate change.
There are myriad economic and environmental benefits of the South Puget Sound Coastal Forest project that reflect the needs and priorities of local stakeholders, including rural communities, conservation groups, and local tribes. Healthy, productive waters for salmon and shellfish are also important for the Squaxin Island Tribe and Skokomish Tribe ways of life.
The project also benefits the local shellfish industry. Mason County has one of the most productive shellfish growing areas in the nation. Shellfish harvesting is the county’s second largest industry. Incompatible development could threaten local water quality, which is essential to the industry’s survival. Securing a conservation easement on the property helps safeguard downstream water quality for shellfish on 1,400 acres of tidelands for more than 20 shellfish companies and 2,000 recreational and tribal harvesters.
In addition, the project supports the region’s forestry industry, which provides 8% of Mason County’s direct jobs and 7.5% of its direct wages. This project alone supports over 100 direct and indirect jobs worth over $5 million in wages.
Furthermore, the project permanently secures public access for hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, and other non-motorized outdoor activities. After Phase 3 was completed, Green Diamond donated over 21 miles of trail easements across the project’s footprint to support the community’s regional trail system.
The three-phase South Puget Sound Coastal Forest project demonstrates the utility of the Forest Legacy Program in supporting local economies that are not dependent on strictly forestry-related activities. Mason County is highly dependent on fishing, shellfishing, and the watershed protections enabled by this project to maintain the water quality of its bays and streams for fish and shellfish. While similar conservation projects offer habitat and species protection, the South Puget Sound Coastal Forest project combines conservation, public access, and economic development.