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Forestry and Conservation for Mount St. Helens

Columbia Land Trust and Pope Resources find solutions to keep working forestland and habitat protected at Swift Reservoir

Jan 13, 2008

Vancouver, WA – A regional nonprofit and one of Washington’s oldest timberland owners are collaborating to protect 20,000 acres of forest from development pressure. The forest property is on the southern flanks of Mount St. Helens surrounding Swift Reservoir in Skamania County. Columbia Land Trust and Pope Resources (www.orm.com) have entered into an agreement that provides a framework for the Land Trust to purchase development rights or fee ownership of most of Pope’s St. Helens Tree Farm.


The Pope land and the surrounding forests are highly prized by local residents for jobs and conservation attributes. The land is also beloved by people from Portland and Southwest Washington because of its proximity to the volcano, abundant recreational opportunities, and rich habitat for wildlife such as elk, spotted owl, and endangered bull trout. Due to this popularity, privately-owned forests in the area started to sprout high-end housing developments that have sweeping views of the mountain and lake.


The Swift Reservoir area was the subject of an intense debate during Skamania County’s recent comprehensive planning process. Environmental groups such as the Gifford Pinchot Task Force and other conservation stakeholders sought to limit further development in this remote forest, while developers lobbied for development rights. During this public debate, Pope subdivided its 24,000-acre tree farm into 20-acre lots in a defensive move to minimize the impact of the proposed zoning for large-scale timber that would eliminate development potential.


With input from Skamania County leaders, planners, and conservationists, the Land Trust and Pope agreed to a process whereby the majority of the Pope-owned forestland is conserved through purchases of development rights and fee ownership. Through this agreement, Pope would retain a
portion (15 percent) of the land for other possible uses, including economic development. The Land Trust is cooperating with PacifiCorp, Cowlitz Public Utility District, and the multi-stakeholder Lewis River Terrestrial Coordinating Committee to use funds the committee manages. The funds are dedicated for purchasing habitat land or easements as mitigation for Lewis River hydroelectric projects. The committee will make a decision on funding once the details of the acquisition are available. The Land Trust is also pursuing funding through Forest Legacy Fund (through the Washington Department of Natural Resources), which is dedicated to acquiring development rights to protect working forest land.

Skamania County is a rural county with a population of just over 10,000. Most of its land base is in public ownership. This Pope forestland represents the largest private ownership in the county. County leaders are in favor of seeing privately-managed forests stay in production, providing forestry and mill jobs and tax revenues. They also have expressed a desire to facilitate planned and thoughtful development on remaining privately-owned land to provide a broader base of tax revenue and economic stimulation.


Jon Rose, president of Olympic Property Group, Pope’s wholly owned real estate subsidiary, says, “In the past, the way we achieved a balance of economic and environmental interests was through difficult public and court battles. This project aims to achieve a sustainable balance among natural resource conservation, working forests, local jobs, and tax revenue for the county through collaboration rather than confrontation. Our collaboration with the Land Trust could conserve up to 85 percent of Pope’s land in working forest – forever. Reserving the remaining 15 percent for other possible uses allows for economic diversification in a county with little privately-owned lands.”


Columbia Land Trust is undertaking this project as part of its strategic Working Forest Initiative. Based on the Land Trust’s mission to conserve signature landscapes and work with landowners and communities, this forestry initiative is dedicated to protecting large-scale working forestlands that are under threat of conversion by development.


“At this stage, land conservation necessarily involves saving resource-based landscapes for local communities, local economies, and nature,” says Land Trust forestry initiative manager Cherie Kearney, “We’ve seen 75% of the nation’s private forests change hands in the last decade, and those same trends are happening here in the Northwest, where our forest economy is part of our identity. We have to find balanced solutions that prevent critically important forests from being lost forever.”


Columbia Land Trust is a private, non-profit organization dedicated to conserving signature landscapes and vital habitat together with the landowners and communities of the Columbia River region. The Land Trust conserves lands in both Oregon and Washington, from the east side of the Cascades to the Pacific Ocean. For more information contact Columbia Land Trust at (360) 696-0131, (503) 224-3601, or www.columbialandtrust.org.


The Land Trust has retained US Forest Capital, LLC as their advisor on the Working Forest Initiative and forest transactions. US Forest Capital is a Portland, OR based company that helps clients develop business opportunities and purchase and sell forest properties that have high conservation values. (www.usforestcapital.com)
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