A forest for people, wildlife and water
All of us who work to conserve the Mountains to Sound Greenway were ecstatic to hear of The Nature Conservancy’s plan to purchase of 47,921 acres of forest in the central Cascades. These 75 square miles of land, north and south of Interstate 90 between Snoqualmie Pass and Cle Elum, run through the heart of the Greenway. The $49 million purchase is a triumph for our state’s natural heritage and for everyone who loves and uses these lands.
This acquisition embodies the collaborative nature of conservation efforts in this region. Astounding work has been done over the past 20 years to create the Mountains to Sound Greenway, including Washington State’s purchase last year of the 50,000-acre Teanaway Community Forest, adjacent to these new Nature Conservancy lands. Many organizations and individuals continue to work tirelessly to connect forest lands through our mountains and wild river basins, while fostering healthy economic growth that remains concentrated in cities and towns. This balanced approach is the reason that we have a magnificent, million-acre playground of conserved, publicly accessible lands right next door to the nation’s fastest-growing metropolis. The Mountains to Sound Greenway is an inspiring, growing success story that can serve as a national model of conservation.
We applaud The Nature Conservancy’s bold vision and decisive action. In one transaction, they are conserving critical wildlife corridors, securing access to countless recreational opportunities, and supporting downstream water supply and water quality.
Ten million vehicles cross Snoqualmie Pass each year, and those of us driving that route have all seen the land included in this transaction. The checkerboard ownership pattern that visibly exists on the hillsides today is a legacy from the U.S. Government granting every other square mile to the Northern Pacific Railroad as compensation for building the transcontinental railway to Puget Sound more than 100 years ago. Though that pioneering grant connected this region to the rest of the nation for the first time, the resulting disjointed land ownership made cohesive forest management extremely difficult for the past century.
These forest lands contain irreplaceable habitat for wildlife, and draw recreationalists from both sides of the mountains. Their value stretches well beyond the square miles we see outlined on the map. As the headwaters of the Yakima River, these forests shelter snow and streams that are the lifeblood of the nation’s second largest agricultural valley. So anyone who likes to eat Washington apples and cherries, or drink local wine, can appreciate these forests for the water they provide to farmers in the Yakima Valley.
For decades, the future of these forests has been uncertain. Could the fragmented land ever be reconnected for contiguous wildlife corridors, and could public access be secured for our children and grandchildren? The Nature Conservancy is ending that uncertainty with a landmark purchase that begins to knit these forests back together and will prevent sprawl, promote healthier forests and habitat, and ensure recreational opportunities for future generations.
Safeguarding a long-term balance between people and nature is essential throughout the Mountains to Sound Greenway. By conserving these lands, The Nature Conservancy is securing the opportunity for all of us to participate in a community dialog on shaping the future management of these lands to meet a multitude of needs and interests, while making plans for long-term preservation, including potential public ownership. Seeking and listening to community voices will be vital as The Nature Conservancy juggles the interconnected needs of conservation, restoration, recreation, and economics. Neighbors have long relied on these forests as part of their culture and livelihood, and continuing to support nearby communities should be an important outcome of this historic acquisition.
Whether your interest is hunting for elk each fall, cross-country skiing in the winter, photographing wildflowers in the spring, or summertime swimming in an alpine lake, recreationalists should take an active role in assuring these lands are conserved and used wisely. With decades of experience collaborating with communities, organizations, and native tribes, The Nature Conservancy has earned our trust and our support in creating a lasting legacy in the Mountains to Sound Greenway.
Author: Kurt Fraese, President of the Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust