Outdoors for All - Columbia Land Trust
Conservation partnership celebrates success at Mount St. Helens
Columbia Land Trust Forestry Initiative Director Cherie Kearney

Columbia Land Trust Forestry Initiative Director Cherie Kearney

VANCOUVER, Wash. (Sept. 22, 2015) — A diverse group of businesses, non-profits, recreational groups, agency and state leaders gathered today to call for reauthorizing the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) and to celebrate the 25th Anniversary of the U.S. Forest Service’s (USFS) Forest Legacy Program, which is funded through the LWCF.

The event was hosted by Columbia Land Trust, The Conservation Fund, Pope Resources, and the U.S. Forest Service, partners in the ongoing effort to protect threatened private forestland at the base of Mount St Helens, and the Washington Association of Land Trusts, the group representing nonprofits using Forest Legacy Program funding across the state to protect threatened private forests.

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Regional Forester Jim Peña and others lauded LWCF, the federal grant program which provides key funding for the ongoing effort to protect more than 20,000 acres of forestland at the base of Mount St. Helens through the Forest Legacy Program. This crucial conservation effort directly supports Washington State’s robust forest products industry – the second largest in the nation – and local timber jobs; increases public access for hiking and other recreation, including to Washington’s premier elk hunting sites; provides critical habitat for federally threatened wildlife; and preserves the viewshed from Mount St. Helens National Monument. Without future funding from LWCF, the unprotected portion of the property risks being divided into 395 20-acre lots leading to irreparable forest fragmentation and impact on Washington’s $16 billion forest and outdoor recreation industries. The project ranked number seven nationally for Forest Legacy funding through LWCF this year.

“Nearly 2.5 million acres of productive forest land have been perpetually protected under the Forest Legacy Program — which is funded through the Land and Water Conservation Fund.  The Forest Service is proud of our cumulative $650 million investment towards those accomplishments, but we are even more proud of the more than $800 million of private and state investments that have been leveraged through the Forest Legacy Program,” said Regional Forester Jim Peña.

Pine Creek by Columbia Land Trust“The Forest Legacy Program plays a critical role for Washington and other states that know that forests pay dividends back to people; forests deliver in terms of jobs, clean air and clean water,” added Butch Blazer, U.S. Department of Agriculture Deputy Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment in a statement. “And well managed, healthy forests are less susceptible to wildfire and more resilient to a changing climate. If the Land and Water Conservation Fund goes away, the Forest Legacy Program could go away, and then we have lost one of the most effective tools we have for keeping private forest lands working for everyone.”

Set to expire in only seven days under the current authorization, LWCF is a visionary and bipartisan federal program that uses a percentage of proceeds from offshore oil and gas royalties—not taxpayer dollars—for the protection of forests, natural resources, historic and cultural sites, state and local parks and recreation areas across the nation.

Senators Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray and Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler delivered statements via representatives at the event.

“As a nation, we have a duty to preserve our natural resources for future generations, and the Land and Water Conservation Fund is one of the best tools we have to empower our local communities to increase public access to open space, conserve forests, protect wilderness areas, create jobs, and strengthen the economy,” said Senator Patty Murray in a statement. “Permanently reauthorizing the LWCF will ensure the fund can continue to protect what so many Washington state families hold dear.”

“In the 50 years since it was first enacted into law, the LWCF has helped to protect many of our nation’s iconic and most popular national parks, forests, and other public lands. Unfortunately, it will expire at the end of this month. I have introduced legislation to permanently fund the LWCF so the future of our natural habitats and forests will be secure in perpetuity for every American and will continue to work in Congress to ensure that we pass permanent funding for this vital program,” said Senator Maria Cantwell in a statement.

“Established in the 1990 Farm Bill and funded by the Land and Water Conservation Fund, the Forest Legacy Program has played a beneficial role in Southwest Washington by allowing for recreational access and forest management while preserving forest lands that would have otherwise been converted to non-forest uses,” said Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler in a statement. “It is my pleasure to join with the Columbia Land Trust in securing the funding for the Mount St. Helens Pine Creek Project which will ensure the continuation of jobs in our privately owned working forests while also benefitting important, locally-supported conservation efforts for that area.”

Funded through the LWCF, the Forest Legacy Program (FLP) supports voluntary partnerships between states, forest landowners, conservation organizations and others to help conserve environmentally important forests from conversion to non-forest uses. Forest Legacy conservation easements ensure privately-owned land continues to contribute to the local and state economy while protecting the natural resources that also benefit the local communities. In Washington, the program has provided $28 million in federal funds leveraged by nonfederal funds from partners to invest $63 million in Washington’s forests while protecting air and water quality, wildlife habitat, access for recreation and other public benefits provided by forests.

LWCF funds have conserved 6,900 acres owned by Pope Resources at Mount St. Helens as a working forest, and partners have applied for another grant this year that would allow the Washington Department of Natural Resources to acquire a working forest conservation easement on the remaining 7,900 acres. The property has been used for generations for timber production, producing an average of 4.9 million board feet (equivalent to approximately 1,200 log trucks) of Douglas-fir annually.

“Our goal was to work with the community and other stakeholders to achieve a balance between potentially competing uses including habitat protection and preservation of the timber industry and its associated jobs and taxes,” said Jon Rose, President of Olympic Property Group, a Pope Resources subsidiary. “This project went further by also balancing timber harvesting and habitat with cabin development and securing public access on private timberland in order to capitalize on the four seasons of recreation opportunities.”

This site is broadly loved by people who hunt, fish, camp, hike and enjoy nature for its proximity to wilderness and sheer beauty. The project supports the Washington outdoor recreation economy, which the Outdoor Industry Association reports contributes $22.5 billion annually in consumer spending, supports 115,000 jobs which generate $7.1 billion in wages and salaries, and produces $1.6 billion annually in state and local tax revenue. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that each year over 2.7 million people participate in hunting, fishing, and wildlife watching in Washington, contributing over $3 billion to the state economy.

“This project was the unique opportunity where diverse parties at the table crafted an enduring, positive outcome from shared values around forestry, wildlife and economy,” said Cherie Kearney, Forestry Initiative Director for Columbia Land Trust. “We’re grateful for our Congressional Delegation’s support for the Forest Legacy Program, which made our work south of Mount St. Helens possible, and for their work to reauthorize LWCF.”

“Today we celebrate, but the threat is still very real that we will lose important forestland properties—vital for Washington jobs and watersheds— without Congress reauthorizing and funding the Land and Water Conservation Fund,” said Evan Smith, Senior Vice President, The Conservation Fund.

The property and its connection to the Gifford Pinchot National Forest and the National Monument provide critical habitat for the federally threatened northern spotted owl and bull trout. The area also supports the State’s largest elk herd and a wide range of wildlife including bald eagles, wolverines, black bear, cougar and migratory songbirds.

“On behalf of Washington’s land trust community, we thank the U.S. Forest Service and our Congressional Delegation for working to reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund before its expiration on September 30th,” said Hannah Clark, Executive Director of the Washington Association of Land Trusts. “This funding has been absolutely critical for ensuring the protection of our threatened private forests, and the varied land and water resources that make Washington an amazing place to live, work and play.”

About the Land and Water Conservation Fund
The Land and Water Conservation Fund is America’s most important conservation program, responsible for protecting parks, wildlife refuges and recreation areas at the federal, state and local level.  For 50 years, it has provided critical funding for land and water conservation projects, recreational construction and activities and the continued historic preservation our nation’s iconic landmarks from coast-to-coast.

LWCF does not use any taxpayer dollars – it is funded using a small portion of revenues from offshore oil and gas royalty payments.  Outdoor recreation, conservation and historic preservation activities contribute more than a trillion dollars annually to the U.S. economy, supporting 9.4 million jobs.

About the Washington Association of Land Trusts
The Washington Association of Land Trusts (WALT), formed in 2007, is a statewide coalition of 26 nonprofit organizations working to permanently protect Washington’s lands and waters through voluntary, cooperative conservation.

Across the state, land trusts protect the land base that sustains the cornerstones of our environment, quality of life, and economy – our salmon-spawning streams and rivers, Puget Sound shorelines, productive forests and farmland, wildlife corridors and refuges, trails and parkland. WALT’s member land trusts have deep connections to local communities and economies and a proven ability to protect land with critical conservation values. The Association represents the collective voice of its members and is committed to strengthening their ability to conserve precious lands for future generations.

Media Contacts:

Jay Kosa, Columbia Land Trust, (360) 567-1574, JKosa@columbialandtrust.org
Hannah Clark, Washington Association of Land Trusts, (206) 294-1696, hannah@walandtrusts.org
Ann Simonelli, The Conservation Fund, (703) 908-5809, asimonelli@conservationfund.org