Muckleshoot Indian Tribe buys White River forest

The Muckleshoot Indian Tribe will be the new owner of the White River Forest near Enumclaw.

According to reports, the tribe purchased 96,307 acres from Hancock Natural Resource Group for about $313 million. The White River Forest includes about 86,501 acres. The entire acquisition spans King, Pierce and Lewis counties.

A release from the tribe stated the transaction closed Nov. 5.

“This acquisition is another important step toward the tribe’s goals of increasing our land base, reacquiring portions of our homeland and diversifying our economy,” said Muckleshoot Tribal Council Chair Virginia Cross in the release. “The tribe looks forward to managing this land for the primary purpose of longterm sustainable timber harvest, while preserving natural values including fish and wildlife habitat, plant resources and areas of cultural importance. This working forest will provide jobs and revenue for important tribal government programs now and for future generations.”

In March, King County purchased a conservation easement on the White River Forest, which is the largest unprotected forestland remaining in the county.

The King County Council approved $3 million in fall of 2012 from Conservation Futures and from the King County Parks levy toward the total $11.1 million price. The easement is  meant to allow the public continued recreational access to the forest for activities such as hiking, horseback riding and other recreational activities.

The city of Enumclaw and the county signed a memorandum of agreement detailing the cooperative makeup in working with a new property owner of the White River Forest.

King County Councilman Reagan Dunn said the purchase was a wise investment for the tribe.

Dunn said a letter is on the way to the tribe from King County Executive Dow Constantine and the council requesting to begin the negotiating process for the easement.

Dunn said the tribe is requesting four to six months to “assess the situation. They will want to talk with the tribal members and (tribal) council.”

Dunn said the county may provided additional compensation for the easement.

Enumclaw Mayor Liz Reynolds said it is important, “that Enumclaw be given the opportunity to have a seat at the table emphasizing the importance of recreational access to the forested area.”

Enumclaw City Councilman Darrel Dickson wrote in an email,”We are fortunate that this land has transferred to local ownership… All parties have significant recreational assets that by working together assets that by working together could be a showcase for tourism.”

The tribe release stated, “Increasing its land base and reacquiring portions of its homeland has been a tribal priority for many years. Muckleshoot people ceded title to thousands of acres of land in the treaties of Point Elliott and Medicine Creek. In addition, United States policy in the latter half of the 19th century was to break-up tribal communal land holdings by allotting reservations lands to individual Indian families and selling non-allotted lands deemed ‘surplus’ to non-Indians. In subsequent years tribal members suffering poverty and discrimination and were often forced to sell-off their reservation land to non-Indians to survive.”

“The White River Forest is an important part of the tribe’s homeland” Cross said in the release. “Bringing this property into tribal ownership is the realization of a long-held goal of our people.”