Saturday, March 9, 2013

Pending Lake Whatcom Reconveyance

The Whatcom County Council will vote on reconveyance of 8,800 acres of Forest Board Land in the Lake Whatcom watershed from State management to County management this next Tuesday, March 12, 2013. I already put up a long history of the lake-whatcom-reconveyance for an understanding how things have proceeded over time - 30 years.

Ralph Schwartz at the Herald has the task of covering the issue for the Bellingham Herald. Not an easy task given the complex and long history and newspaper constraints combined with political and policy passion. His latest take ive-got-your-reconveyance-right-here.

The county council was close to taking a vote on the reconveyance last September, but held off to consider various issues regarding management of the park and more fully vet the park planning for the reconveyed land. This led to the county administration putting together a series of very informative presentations on the proposed park. The presentations cover costs, forest management, and recreational planning and can be seen at

The presentations have been very useful and thought provoking in terms of the management opportunities the locally controlled park will provide. And given the fact the county will be managing this land, it was very important for the council members to understand and provide input regarding the park plan. At this point, council members should be fairly comfortable with the park plans and management and the role the council can have in shaping how the park will be managed for water quality and recreation, and how the forest within the park will be managed including potential revenue sources. All good issues that require vetting before final action.

The debates over recreation, water quality and forest management all are important items in regards to how the land should be managed. I have nothing to add on these issues at this point that would be new. By this point it should be clear that the issues of how the park will be managed are not absolutest as some would otherwise state. But the question before the Council is Does the County want to have control over these matters on the Forest Board Lands in the watershed or should it be left to the State Board of Natural Resources?

In the 1920s as counties around the state accumulated cut over abandoned lands there was a need for the state to step in and manage these mangled and fire prone landscapes. Hence, Forest Board Lands to be managed by the state were created. At the time one county, Grays Harbor County, opted out of state management for all of its Forest Board Lands and has ever since been managing its own Forest Board Lands for recreation, watershed protection and forestry - all the same issues facing the Whatcom County Council in regards to the Lake Whatcom watershed. The law setting up the Forest Board Lands anticipated that over time Counties might want to opt to manage Forest Board Lands, but the State did not want counties selling off the land and hence placed the constraint that reconveyed land must be managed as public park land. The specifics of the park management will be up to the County.

Counties with significant revenue streams from Forest Board Lands tend to push hard for maximum revenue generation and even in the mid 1990s pushed for an across the board reconveyance. The pressure for revenue generation and minimizing management costs has limited the ability of the Department of Natural Resources to do other management activities unless directly funded or ordered to by the State Legislature.

Hence, even modest protections that were added to the Lake Whatcom watershed were vehemently opposed by other Forest Board Land counties. There was even a fund set up and coordinated by Skagit County to attempt to over turn the modest protections put in place via the Lake Whatcom Landscape Plan.

The Board of Natural Resources position was summed up in 2004 by Member Bruce Bare, "Therefore, I believe that the Department should: (a) immediately undertake to investigate ways to transfer ownership of appropriate state lands out of the watershed (Lake Whatcom) and (b) seek ways to compensate trust beneficiaries for unwarranted reductions in asset value induced by the preferred landscape alternative."

Dr. Bare's view is not unique. This is the institutional view of the regarding State management of Forest Board Lands - there must be compensation for non revenue generating activities.

That is the choice the County Council has been working on over the past seven years; management by the State with all the broad state-wide issues that go with that management or local management by the county that focuses on the needs and values of the local community.   

1 comment:

Geoffrey Middaugh said...

In my 40+ years of working with the politics of protected areas, each is unique. So is this one. Usually the political economy of these kerfuffle is to push management from local to higher levels of government, thus assuring higher levels of protection (and process). In this case, the push is down to local government. Not normal, but emphasizes that (1) all politics is local; and (2) history has along memory (in this case, bad forestry and landslides). I fully support the re-conveyance, but why does it always have to be so hard.