YACOLT — In May 2018, Linda Lorenz was clearing blackberries from her 17.8-acre property overlooking the East Fork of the Lewis River when some state employees stopped by.
The employees, from the Washington State Department of Natural Resources, wanted to use her property to survey a planned 60-acre timber sale on the other side of the East Fork.
The employees were friendly and informative, going as far as to show her a map of the area. That didn’t keep Lorenz from fearing the state would log an area close to the trail between Lucia Falls and Moulton Falls regional parks. The trail is one of the more popular shared paths in north Clark County for hikers, runners, bicyclists, equestrians, and anyone else seeking exercise and time in nature.
A little more than a year since community advocates started mobilizing to oppose the logging, the two sides might be close to a solution that would protect the forested area south of the trail from chain saws without taking a slice out of revenue flowing to public schools, universities, prisons and other public institutions.
“We are very pleased with where we are right now,” Lorenz said while walking on the trail June 28. “I am very optimistic. The right people are involved.”
DNR manages 3 million acres of state trust lands, which are lands the federal government granted to Washington when it became a state in 1889. A state Supreme Court decision in 1984 required the state to act as a trustee, which means managing lands prudently and generating revenue for its beneficiaries.
Richard Dyrland, president of Friends of the East Fork, was worried the state was proposing to log an area with steep slopes not far from the river.
Another state agency, the Department of Ecology, has been working with property owners, conservation groups and others to improve water quality in the East Fork. The free-flowing river is on the agency’s polluted waters list for elevated water temperature and fecal coliform bacteria.
Dyrland said a May 2 meeting with DNR officials in Olympia went well, with what he described as good, substantive discussions.
“They were really looking for solutions,” he said. “It’s been a long time since I was in a meeting like that — very refreshing.”
Brock Milliern, DNR’s division manager for conservation, recreation and transactions, attended the May 2 meeting and agreed it was a solid discussion.
“I think we are still in problem-solving mode and don’t know what the exact solution might be,” he said. “But I would characterize that meeting we had as quite positive.”
One likely solution is administratively swapping the property for a different state parcel, a process DNR calls an intertrust transfer. If this were to go forward, the county would agree to take ownership of the 60-acre parcel near the Hantwick Road Trailhead and pay the state’s administrative costs, estimated at between $25,000 and $50,000.
“I am 90 percent sure we have not identified the property yet,” Milliern said about a possible swap. “Before we get down to that level of detail, we would want to know that is the direction the county wants to go.”
DNR also would need to take the issue before the state’s Board of Natural Resources, Milliern said, and there is no schedule to do so at this point.
“We’re on hold right now as we try to problem-solve and look at other options,” he said.
The Clark County Council is open to discussing options. On June 12, all five councilors signed a letter to Public Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz that called the area “an incredible asset to our county and our state.”
“The county council would like to further discuss options for next steps to see if there are feasible and agreeable options to transfer the land to county ownership so the county may preserve this wonderful asset,” the letter concludes.
Milliern said the county’s interest is critical to working out a mutually acceptable solution, “particularly since the county would be the receiver of the land if we ended up doing this intertrust exchange.”
“Certainly, their willingness to receive this land and take responsibility for it is very important,” he said
Councilor Gary Medvigy, who represents the council district that includes the trail, said the issue is “near and dear to my heart.
“I think we now have positive momentum,” he said. “We do have options on the table. We just need time to sort through them.
“It’s a beautiful place,” Medvigy added. “I have been up there to hike, and we don’t want to lose it.”
Councilor Temple Lentz posted a video online of her walking on the trail and urging the community to get involved.
“Tell us what you love about this trail, about these regional parks, about this forest,” Lentz said in the video. “Tell us what makes it important. Please, let us know. We do need to hear from you. Send us email. Call us. Let us know if we should continue to work on finding solutions, to work with DNR to preserve this section of the forest.”
Lorenz said she purchased her property overlooking the East Fork a couple of years ago as “a place to go and camp, and hang out and enjoy nature, do some swimming.”
“This is an irreplaceable asset,” Lorenz said about the area uphill from the trail. “There were so many people who contacted (DNR) and said, ‘We love this trail, we want to keep it intact.’ ”
Milliern said the state has heard from those people.
“As far as our timber sales go, this is a more contentious or hot one for us,” he said.
Opponents to the proposed logging often refer to the state intending to clear-cut the 60 acres. Milliern said it would be logged using variable retention harvest, which preserves about eight trees per acre, but he conceded there would be a major visual change.
“It feels like a clear-cut to people,” he said. “I never like to sidestep that.”
New state population estimates indicate Clark County had 488,500 residents as of April 1. With the county racing toward a half-million people, Dyrland believes local officials need to protect important environmental and scenic areas.
“We can’t wait another 15 to 20 years and say, ‘Oh, we have to take care of these areas,’ ” he said. “The time to do it is right now.”