How much are 30,000 acres of forest worth? Washington conservation groups and the state's Department of Natural Resources are about to find out. On April 8, the two sides settled a trio of lawsuits over the Loomis State Forest in north-central Washington by agreeing to let the conservation groups pay to remove a chunk of the forest's roadless lands from the state timber program.
All they need now is
Conservation groups have already raised
$95,000 to make a down payment on the deal, but the total tab will
probably be close to $25 million, due July 1, 1999, according to
Mitch Friedman of the Northwest Ecosystem Alliance. It will likely
be the most expensive private forest protection effort Washington
has ever seen.
Friedman's group, along with the
Friends of Loomis Forest and the Washington Environmental Council,
had filed lawsuits charging that the state's management plan for
the forest violated state water quality standards and the
Endangered Species Act. The April settlement suspends those
If the groups come up with the money,
the state will still own the trees, but the forest will probably
become a public reserve open to low-impact recreation, says
Commissioner of Public Lands Jennifer Belcher.
The Loomis is part of a 1.8 million-acre endowment of state lands
managed by the Washington Department of Natural Resources to
benefit the state's school construction fund. Money raised by the
conservationists will reimburse the construction fund for the value
of the land as well as three timber sales that had been planned for
the roadless areas.
The state will probably use
proceeds from the settlement to buy more productive timberland or
commercial properties for the school trust fund, says Belcher.
"We've always had a hard time making much money out of the Loomis,"
The state has spent $300 million over
the last decade to fund similar land exchanges, increasing the
school trust fund's income by as much as $5 million a year while
preserving unproductive or scientifically important
unprecedented in what we're doing," says Mitch Friedman. "The
mechanism is there. What's unusual is that private dollars have
come into the mix."