Press Release: $16.3 million for new Community Forests grant program in state Senate’s proposed capital budget

- Blog

MONDAY, MARCH 29, 2021

Contact: Megan Nann, megan@walandtrusts.org
Contact: Brittany Gallagher, brittany.gallagher@tnc.org
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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

$16.3 million for new Community Forests grant program in state Senate’s proposed capital budget

 

Strong support from chamber would fund six projects across Washington

OLYMPIA – Senate budget writers included $16.3 million for a new Community Forest Program administered by the Recreation and Conservation Office (RCO) in their capital budget, released Thursday.  This level of funding would support six projects driven by local communities in partnership with city, county and Tribal governments and nonprofit organizations, in Chelan, Jefferson, Pierce, Klickitat, Kittitas and Kitsap Counties.

Fifteen applicant teams submitted proposals totaling more than $33 million for funding consideration in the 2021-23 biennium.  Both the House and Senate allocated significant funding toward the ranked project list developed by RCO, with the House matching Governor Inslee’s proposed number from his December budget at $9.7 million.

The new Community Forest Program addresses a critical funding gap in the state by supporting the acquisition and development of important working forestlands so they can be managed on behalf of local communities. In centering the needs of local stakeholders, community forests promote active management, restoration and development that provide immediate economic impact, while securing the lasting ecological and social benefits that Washington’s working forests hold.

“In what was a year like no other, we are really glad to see that the Legislature recognizes the growing demand and need for local control of actively managed forestland,” said Nicholas Norton, Executive Director of the Washington Association of Land Trusts (WALT). “We are deeply appreciative of the strong funding levels proposed by both chambers for the Community Forest Program, but clearly hope the House will match the level proposed by the Senate during the budget reconciliation process.

“Washington possesses some of the nation’s most iconic and productive forests, and we see community forests as a vital tool to allow these working landscapes to continue to flourish, while leveraging community voices and local capacity to unlock additional public benefits now and for future generations. Increasingly, we are seeing our land trust membership, in partnership with cities, counties, and others, interested in using this model to help address local trends, whether it is increasing fragmentation and conversion of working forestland, loss of forest sector jobs, higher wildfire risk in the wildland-urban interface, or a lack of secure public access to diverse user groups.

Each of these projects recommended for funding by RCO allows people living in rural areas to have a direct stake in the ownership, use, and long-term management of important forestlands, while protecting their working status in perpetuity. Funding these projects will leverage significant additional dollars and spur rural jobs and economies at a time when that investment is needed more than ever.”

For example, the proposed Nason Ridge Community Forest, the top ranked project on the list, would allow Chelan County to acquire over 3,700 acres that overlooks Lake Wenatchee, a popular regional destination. Community management of this unique parcel would allow the county to secure and enhance diverse recreational opportunities in collaboration with the adjacent Lake Wenatchee State Park, provide habitat protection and restoration opportunities along 2.5 miles of Nason Creek (an important salmon and steelhead stream) and support active management to create new jobs and improve forest resiliency.

 

In addition, the second-ranked Chimacum Ridge Community Forest on the Olympic Peninsula would transform over 853 acres into an active resource for the community, and is supported by over 35 partners as part of a long-term community vision. It would open up 10 miles of new trails to drive local tourism, support direct access to forest products for local businesses, provide a safe haven for diverse cultural activities, and serve as an educational hub to develop the next generation of natural resource professionals.

However, increasing the funding to $16.3, as proposed by the Senate, would include at least two additional projects of critical local importance:

  • The proposed Cle Elum Ridge Community Forest is composed of 1,250 acres that directly connects the Cities of Roslyn and Cle Elum with the Department of Natural Resource’s 55,000 acre Teanaway Community Forest. This is the first step in allowing the community to achieve its vision of becoming a 9,400-acre model dry-pine community forest; a forest that stems rural development in high-risk areas, provides a critical fire management buffer for residents, supports an active forestry sector in Kittitas County, improves water quality in the Yakima Basin, and gives unparalleled connectivity to some of the best outdoor recreational opportunities our state has to offer.

“Community forests such as ours diversify local economies,” said Mitch Long, Executive Director of the Kittitas Conservation Trust, the project’s sponsor. “Local management and control helps create fire resilient communities, and provides for public access to our outdoor resources and education. Community forests do not just preserve land, but preserve a way of life. A quality of life for communities in Central and Eastern Washington.”

  • The proposed North Kitsap Divide Community Forest is the last remaining large block of unprotected timberland in north Kitsap County, with some of the best growing conditions in Western Washington. However, the 487-acre property is highly threatened with conversion to 24 rural-residential lots. This acquisition would not only protect the land’s working status in perpetuity, but secure a key missing link in the planned route of the Sound to Olympics trail.

“Once open, the trail will create near continuous foot and bike access from the Mountains to Sounds Greenway to the Olympic Discovery Trail. Not only will tourist dollars stimulate our local economy, but local residents will connect with nature and receive the physical and mental health benefits of spending time outdoors.” said Nathan Daniel, Executive Director of the Great Peninsula Conservancy, the project’s sponsor. Now is the only chance for this project to be acquired and managed for a combination of sustainable forestry, outdoor recreation, and wildlife habitat.

Though not quite within the Senate’s budget, the Stewart Mountain Community Forest is another important example of the way community forests can provide a new way of operating in the woods. Located in one of the lowest-income areas of Whatcom County, the larger project area has had six different landowners in the past 25 years.

“By providing secure, stable ownership and outreach to diverse local voices, we can spur interest in community-based forest stewardship, and manage this dynamic landscape as a working forest that optimizes a wide variety of ecological, economic, and community benefits on the land,” said Alex Jeffers, Conservation Manager at Whatcom Land Trust.

On this property, there are “significant amounts of steep slope, salmon- bearing tributaries, and mature forests up to 126 years old.  The Community Forest will be managed as a working forest that aims to optimize a wide variety of ecological, economic, and community benefits such as watershed health, sustainable jobs, fish and wildlife habitat, and recreational access” said Alex Jeffers, Conservation Manager at Whatcom Land Trust.   “For example, this project would provide members of the Nooksack Tribe with greater access to their traditional hunting and gathering grounds, help improve hydrologic function in the South Fork Nooksack River watershed, and eventually give recreationalists access to a series of impressive waterfalls that dot the property.”

 

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About the Washington Association of Land Trusts

Since 2008, the Washington Association of Land Trusts (WALT) has been a unified hub for Washington’s private voluntary land conservation organizations. Across the state, our 32 member land trusts are at the forefront of work to safeguard a diverse and connected natural world, support a vibrant working-lands economy, broaden access to the outdoors, and foster an ethic of engagement with the landscapes that sustain our quality of life. To date, our members have conserved well over a million acres of vital open space, and represent a community of staff, board members, supporters, and volunteers over 60,000 strong. WALT unites these diverse champions as a collective voice for the state’s private land conservation movement, while supporting a thriving community of practice to enhance the scale, impact, and relevance of our member’s efforts.

 

About the Community Forests Program

The Community Forests Program (CFP) is an entirely new funding program administered by the Recreation and Conservation Office. CFP provides acquisition and development funding to local entities (cities, counties, Tribes, nonprofits, or agencies collaborating with local partners) so that they can acquire working forestland to be managed for multiple benefits based on community needs.