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King County to purchase 43,000 acres of forest east of Enumclaw

Note: the following is a press release issued Thursday afternoon by King County.

King County Executive Dow Constantine today said he has reached an agreement to permanently protect the 43,000 acres of the White River Forest east of Enumclaw from development – an area roughly twice the size of the city of Bellevue.

“This is the largest swath of unprotected forestland remaining in King County,” said Executive Constantine. “With this agreement, we will dramatically extend our green wall against sprawl, and achieve the ambitious goal set a decade ago of protecting 200,000 acres of working forests countywide.”

Managed by the Hancock Timber Resource Group, the White River Forest is located along scenic Highway 410, which takes motorists to Crystal Mountain ski resort in the winter and over Chinook pass in the summer.

To purchase development rights to the property, the Executive today sent legislation to the County Council to authorize $8.1 million in existing funding from the County’s dedicated open space fund known as the Conservation Futures Fund. The Council last fall approved $3 million from Conservation Futures and from the King County Parks levy toward the total $11.1 million price. The land would remain in private ownership with the right to harvest timber sustainably.

Dan Christensen, CEO of Hancock Timber Resource Group, said the Company is committed to conservation efforts and managing forests sustainably.

“We are pleased to move one step closer to our common goal of protecting the impressive White River property as a working forest in perpetuity. We appreciate the commitment of Executive Constantine and King County in preserving the forest with its economic, social and environmental benefits for generations to come,” Christensen said. “With the conservation of the White River forest, the Hancock Timber Resource Group’s Sensitive Lands program would surpass more than 470,000 acres protected globally. A significant part of that work has been accomplished right here in King County and we greatly respect the County’s ongoing efforts to conserve vital working forests.”

“Protecting these lands will preserve resource jobs, open space, fish and wildlife habitat, and a significant view corridor for the people of King County,” said King County Councilmember Larry Phillips. “This is an important legacy to leave for future generations, building on the hundreds of thousands of acres of open space we’ve preserved in King County. I am proud to continue the County Council’s work finalizing the funding package we began assembling last year toward this preservation effort.”

The White River Forest is a critical component to a large north-south wildlife habitat link that connects Mount Rainier National Park in the south to the upper Green and Cedar River watersheds that lie to the north. It is also an important east-west wildlife corridor, providing an uninterrupted link from the lowlands to the Cascade crest.

“This land protection deal ensures the White River valley remains a working forest that encompasses all the economic and conservation principles that are important to thriving forest lands,” said Councilmember Reagan Dunn. “This sale preserves not just a working forest and local jobs but also an area where county residents currently enjoy various outdoor recreation activities such as hiking, horseback riding, hunting and fishing.”

“Since the 43,000-acre forest would continue to act – forever into the future – as a ‘carbon sink’ by absorbing greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere and storing them in trees, preserving this forest helps the County address our climate change goals,” said Councilmember Joe McDermott.

Making up nearly one-fifth of the private commercial forest lands in King County, the White River Forest is an important part of the County’s timber resource industry. An analysis of countywide timber harvest data suggested that in 2010 the White River Forest yielded nearly 10 million board-feet with an estimated timber value of $3.5 million, supporting more than 350 jobs in forestry.

For more information, including maps of the White River Forest receiving protection, please visit www.kingcounty.gov/whiteriverforest.

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