Judge Rules State Must Do Environmental Study Before Logging Blanchard Mountain
By Kie Relyea, The Bellingham Herald, Wash.
Jul. 23–A King County Superior Court judge has ordered the state Department of Natural Resources to do an environmental study of Blanchard Mountain before allowing logging.
The opinion issued by Susan J. Craighead earlier this month focuses on 4,827 acres of “working forest” that DNR manages on Blanchard Mountain, a favorite playground of hikers, horseback riders and hang-gliders just south of the Whatcom County line.
It’s also trust land that is logged to raise money for the state, Skagit County government and Burlington-Edison schools. In May 2006, DNR put together a 10-member Blanchard Forest Strategies Group to come up with a plan “because it believed that it could no longer minimize logging in Blanchard Forest in deference to its heavy use by the community now that the forest had matured to the point that it was ready to harvest,” Craighead wrote in her opinion.
The group, which included representatives from environmental organizations, came up with a plan that had as its key component protection of a “core” of 1,600 acres of forest at the top of Blanchard Mountain.
The idea was to allow the core to grow into an old forest, and to provide habitat for wildlife and opportunities for recreation.
But the lawsuit filed by Chuckanut Conservancy and North Cascades Conservation Council — which were not part of the working group — said that in crafting that plan, DNR erred when it said logging in the remainder of the forest would have no environmental impact.
Their case turned on two issues.
What is the baseline for determining impact of the plan?
Because the forest was trust land, DNR used sustainable logging as a baseline. The plaintiffs used the status quo of the past 80 years, which involved multiple uses with limited logging, according to the judge’s written opinion.
DNR was wrong to believe it didn’t have to study Blanchard Forest, specifically because it draws from federal and state policies that are designed to minimize the impact of logging and to protect fish and wildlife, and those polices each had environmental impact statements.
Craighead sided with the environmental groups and required DNR to do a full environmental impact statement for Blanchard.
“While it may be true that Blanchard Forest is not as ecologically unique as plaintiffs paint it to be, the forest is nonetheless highly unusual. It is the only place where the Cascades meet Puget Sound,” she wrote in her July 8 opinion. “…Blanchard Forest represents a slice of near-wilderness in the middle of a rapidly urbanizing area.”
DNR officials said they are awaiting the judge’s final order, which should come out in the next few weeks to make a statement.
“At this point we’re not commenting on the judge’s opinion,” said Bill Wallace, the northwest region manger for DNR.
“It’s not like we’re opposed to logging,” said Franklin Eventoff, a member of Chuckanut Conservancy, of Craighead’s order. “If they’re going to do it, they should at least know what’s on the mountain.”
Reach KIE RELYEA at
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