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January 4, 2017

Legislative funding gap puts Blanchard Forest conservation area at risk of being logged

A $6.2 million funding shortfall in Governor Jay Inslee’s 2017 proposed budget puts a portion of nearly 1,600 acres of protected forestland in Skagit County at risk of being logged. The Skagit County Board of Commissioners, along with local recreationalists, conservation groups and community partners, are urging the state Legislature to correct this oversight and fully fund the Blanchard Forest Strategy.

“We’ve partnered with our local and regional stakeholders to craft a clear, effective strategy that ensures our community can enjoy this working forest for years to come,” said Skagit County Commissioner Lisa Janicki. “I’m proud of the creative and collaborative effort it took to craft this strategy. It would be a shame to see 10 years of successful partnership end due to a simple lack of funding from the Legislature.”

If fully funded by the Legislature, the Blanchard Forest Strategy agreement would put 1,600 acres in the center of the Blanchard Forest into conservation status – preserving and expanding its recreational and natural value indefinitely – and would allow the state Department of Natural Resource to purchase additional forest land to offset the loss of revenue.

Governor Inslee’s proposed budget only allocates $1.5 million to the Blanchard Forest Strategy, $6.2 million short of the total $7.7 million needed for implementation. Without this funding, the area would be open to commercial timber harvesting.

“Blanchard is one of this state’s great gems, where the forest meets the sea,” said Molly Doran, executive director of the Skagit Land Trust. “For 10 years now, we’ve worked hard to get funding allocated. It’s time for the state to step up and show that it values this resource.”

Burlington-Edison School District board member Bill Wallace echoed these sentiments: “The Burlington-Edison School District relies on the revenue coming from Blanchard Forest timber harvests,” Wallace said. “This non-tax revenue is at risk if the $7.7 million is not appropriated this session. The entire balance of working forest along with conservation and recreation areas set forth in the well-crafted Blanchard Forest Strategy will be in danger of coming apart.”

The state Department of Natural Resources, Skagit County and local stakeholders – including the Backcountry Horsemen of Washington, Skagit Land Trust, Conservation Northwest, Pacific Northwest Trail Association and others – signed the Blanchard Forest Strategy agreement in early 2008, and have spent the past decade working with stakeholders across the state to encourage continued financial support.               

“Tens of thousands of people, from Seattle all the way to Vancouver, B.C., enjoy Blanchard Mountain on foot, hoof, tire and wing,” said Mike McGlenn, Whatcom Backcountry Horsemen Trail Head Chairman. “Outdoor recreation is a huge economic engine for western Skagit County, and for the state itself – as Governor Inslee points out regularly. Funding the Blanchard Forest Strategy is an investment in effective stewardship of this beautiful natural resource.”

“I’ve been honored to be among the stakeholders who are charged with implementing, in good faith, this cutting-edge agreement,” said Tom Nelson, Washington Timberlands Manager for Sierra Pacific Industries. “We’ve stood together to see it through, and frankly, the political process has let us down.”

Located in the western part of Skagit County, Blanchard is a 4,800-acre working forest managed by the state Department of Natural Resources. It is a popular recreation destination for hikers, bikers, horseback riders, paragliders and more. It includes campgrounds and stunning views of the San Juan Islands. Revenue generated by state management of the land supports Skagit County Medic One, the Port of Skagit, United General District 304 and the Burlington-Edison School District.

Related: Blanchard Memorandum of Understanding

For questions or more details, please contact Bronlea Mishler at bronleam@co.skagit.wa.us or 360-416-1309.