The White River Forest, owned by Hancock Timber Resource Group and located near Enumclaw, is on the market.
The King County Council approved a conservation easement in April negotiated by King County Executive Dow Constantine to protect 43,000 acres of the White River Forest from development.
Enumclaw Mayor Liz Reynolds said the important issue for the city regarding the forest is recreation access.
“We have an opportunity to build economic development based on recreational access to the foothills,” she said.
King County Councilman Reagan Dunn said the conservation easement preserves the forest for recreation use and protects it from residential development, but continues to allow the land to be used for mineral extraction and logging.
Dunn said he understood the quick action by the executive and King County Council to preserve the conservation easement caused some controversy, but the process was necessary.
Dunn said Hancock had come to King County officials and informed them the land would be put on the market.
“We had to move quickly to get the conservation easement in place,” Dunn said.
Dunn said because the timeline was compressed the council did not have time to consult with city officials. All action was taken in public meetings.
The land was listed on the market about a month ago. Dunn said the expectation is a seller could be in place in three to six months.
Dunn said as soon as the county executive and the County Council knows who the prospective purchaser will be, county officials will work with the buyer concerning the conservation easement and recreational access.
“Recreational access is important to us,” Reynolds said. “What we want is a seat at the table to talk about access.”
Dunn said there will be a joint planning process with city and county officials concerning access and the conservation easement with the new purchaser.
The councilman said he can see Enumclaw looking for urban expansion in each direction but not east where the White River Forest is located.
He described the forest as a local and national treasure that needs to be protected from residential development.
The county’s plan is to protect large north-south wildlife habitat connecting Mount Rainier National Park in the south to the upper Green and Cedar River watersheds to the north, providing an uninterrupted link from the lowlands to the Cascade crest.
Constantine said at the time the County Council passed the easement, “This is the largest swath of unprotected forestland remaining in King County. 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.”
To purchase development rights to the property, the executive forwarded legislation to the County Council to authorize $8.1 million from the county’s dedicated open space fund known as the Conservation Futures Fund. The 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 land would remain in private ownership with the right to harvest timber sustainably.
A release from the county reported that analysis of countywide timber harvest data stated 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.