On the trail

From left, Andrea Curry from Vancouver, and Denise Roach from Battle Ground walk their dogs Luna, Mena and Chubs at the Hantwick Trail in Yacolt July 18.

Talk about potentially cutting trees in a roughly 60-acre area near the Hantwick Trail at Moulton Falls has gone from frustrating to encouraging for some nearby residents as the Washington State Department of Natural Resources looks at alternatives to doing the proposed timber harvest.

Though initially planned for January, timber harvest on a unit of property owned by the state was postponed until May in order for work to be done regarding a potential land swap of sorts between the DNR and Clark County. When May came around the harvest didn’t happen; DNR Division Manager for Conservation, Recreation, and Transactions Brock Milliern said the second postponement was due to the department recognizing it needed more feedback from the community before moving forward.

“I would say right now we’ve postponed it while we work with the community and the county to figure out the best path forward,” Milliern said, adding there was no specific timeline on when something would happen.

Recently, the Clark County Council has been more direct with its stance regarding the proposed harvest, sending a letter dated June 12 to the Washington State Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz stating their concerns. In it, the council addressed the potential of a land transfer, acknowledging that it would cost them financially but bringing up the potential for environmental costs should trees fall.

“The scenery, habitat, and recreational opportunities in this area are invaluable,” the letter read, adding that it looked forward to hearing potential options.

Milliern said there would be a chance for the council to hear those options as he will be attending a meeting with them planned for next month. He said there were three options on the table, including “some sort of harvest.” The other two options involved two different ways the county could take ownership.

Land changing hands 

One of those options would be a process called “reconveyance” which would be similar to the previously proposed swap. Milliern said there was a complication for reconveyance given the designations of trust land involved. The land where the timber sale would happen was a part of the state Common School Trust, a designation where revenues from a property are used for K-12 school construction across the state.

The issue would be whether or not the property that the county would swap for the one with the potential harvest would be of similar benefit to that trust than what the property currently is, Milliern explained. He added that since the county would be giving some of its own trust land, it could have impacts on their bottom line as well. Under the county trust designation, properties’ revenue can benefit local taxing districts like schools and fire protection services.

Another option would be for the county to purchase the land outright, Milliern said. The benefit for the Common School Trust would be the revenue from that sale, which could potentially make the option more viable for the state. That would likely cost more, though Milliern did not have an estimate of how much the 60-acre unit would be.

A reconveyance would still have costs for things like surveys, appraisals and coordinating public meetings, Milliern said, estimating it would be between $25,000 to $50,000 to go that route.

Milliern explained that the land in question was part of acreage granted to the state of Washington from the federal government at the time of statehood in 1889. He noted that although there is generally some pushback on timber harvests the one for the potential Hantwick Trail cut was more robust than usual.

“We’ve had a very engaged public,” Milliern remarked. Moving forward he anticipated there would be public meetings if any land transfer were to move forward. 

“It’s tough to see exactly what the solution is right now,” Milliern said. “We definitely haven’t landed anywhere yet.”

A neighbor’s take

Linda Lorenz, a property owner across the East Fork Lewis River from the trail, has been pleased with the direction discussion over the potential harvest has gone. Lorenz and her husband bought the property a few years back in order to have a spot close to the Moulton Falls trails including Hantwick. 

Lorenz said in Spring of last year she was managing her property when DNR officials stopped by and asked if they could be on it for surveying purposes, learning about the potential harvest in the process. After that encounter Lorenz said she began to “sound the alarm” on the potential of a harvest along the trail. 

The response from concerned parties was “magnificent,” she said, adding that Sierra Club and the northwest chapter of the Audubon Society, among other groups, came out in opposition of the proposal.

Outside of the aesthetic effect a harvest would have on the trail, Lorenz said she and others were concerned about what tree removal would do to the potential of landslides. Destabilization could leave debris on the trail, which could impact how accessible it is for those with disabilities. 

Lorenz said that accessibility and how the trail follows the East Fork makes it stand out among trails in the area. 

“It’s an irreplaceable asset that we really need to protect,” she said. 

At the outset of fighting the timber sale, Lorenz said it was “really frustrating at first,” having to go before the state Board of Natural Resources in Olympia to testify. It was on a May 2 meeting with the state board that government officials seemed to turn a corner, as Lorenz recounted how the board appeared to be more receptive than previously, providing some of the options available.

“It went from extreme frustration to over-the-top happiness,” Lorenz said. “I think they’re willing to work with us.”

With more discussions planned and any harvest postponed indefinitely, Lorenz is significantly more optimistic about the situation than she was when she first learned about potentially losing trees along the Hantwick Trail.

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