Tiger Mountain is test for commissioner of public lands candidates
Tiger Mountain is a destination for hikers, mountain bikers and loggers, and the official responsible for acting as a referee to balance the competing interests is the state commissioner of public lands.
Republican Clint Didier is challenging the incumbent, Democrat Peter Goldmark, to serve as the top natural resources official in Washington.
The commissioner of public lands leads the state Department of Natural Resources, and oversees about 3 million acres of forests, agricultural land and other properties, as well as about 2.6 million acres of shorelines, tidelands, lakes and rivers.
The position carries outsized influence in the Issaquah area. The agency is often a factor in local policymaking, due to the connections among the Department of Natural Resources, Issaquah City Hall and outdoor recreation groups.
Tiger Mountain State Forest sits just outside city limits. The evergreen-carpeted peak is a key focus for the Issaquah Alps Trails Club, Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance, recreation groups and major volunteers in the ongoing effort to prevent unauthorized use, and to build and maintain trails on the mountain.
Just outside the state forest is the West Tiger Mountain Natural Resource Conservation Area. The preserve — 4,430 acres on the Tradition Plateau east of Issaquah — is adjacent to city-owned land on the Tradition Plateau. Issaquah and the agency co-manage the land.
“There’s a lot of perception that the whole mountain is a park, where none of it’s a park and 4,000 acres is a resource conservation area — which in some ways is stricter than many parks — and then most of the mountain is working forest,” said David Kappler, Issaquah Alps Trails Club president and former Issaquah city councilman.
Trails in the state forest occasionally close as loggers harvest timber from the mountain.
In recent months, Department of Natural Resources officials started planning for recreation opportunities in the forests stretched between Tiger Mountain and Mount Si. Combined, the lands in the corridor form the largest network of natural areas in Washington.
The candidates for commissioner of public lands amassed a list of endorsements in the race to lead the state Department of Natural Resources.
“What we need from DNR is a willing partner with the flexibility to meet their statutory requirements while still trying to meet the goal of creating high-quality recreation,” said Glenn Glover, Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance executive director.
The commissioner of public lands also serves as a nonvoting member on the Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust board. The greenbelt along Interstate 90 encompasses Issaquah and includes 1.5 million acres in Western and Central Washington.
Revenue is agency’s top priority
The agency’s top responsibility is not to set aside land for conservation or recreation, but to use natural resources to generate dollars for public schools and other government entities.
Funds from timber sales provide dollars to construct and maintain public schools and universities, state prisons and state office buildings. Some revenue is directed to local agencies, such as fire departments, in King County and throughout the state.
Both candidates for commissioner of public lands come from agricultural roots in Eastern Washington. Didier is a farmer from Eltopia in rural Franklin County; Goldmark is a rancher from Okanogan County.
“He’s a farmer, and he knows about sustainable land,” Didier campaign manager Chuck Skirko said. “You’ve got to keep the land in good shape and you’ve got to take good care of it, or it won’t take care of you or be there for you in the future.”
Didier, a Super Bowl champion with the Washington Redskins in the 1980s, ran unsuccessfully for a U.S. Senate seat in 2010.
In 2008, Goldmark defeated the incumbent commissioner of public lands, former Pierce County Executive Doug Sutherland, in a close race for the job.
“I’ve worked hard to represent the public’s interest in running the agency in a very efficient and in a reformed fashion — cutting down drastically on travel, selling vehicles, selling the agency airplane that had been the agency’s for over 20 years,” Goldmark said. “I’ve been really trying to bring my voter and public perspective, which I’ve had for all of my life, into office.”
Both candidates lauded volunteer groups, such as the Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance and the Issaquah Alps Trails Club, for efforts to promote recreation on Tiger Mountain and in Olympia.
Skirko said Didier aims to expand some access to Department of Natural Resources-managed lands so more residents can experience the outdoors.
“There are people that enjoy nature, they just enjoy it from a different viewpoint than a mountain bike or their leather-soled shoes,” Skirko said. “Some of our retired, disabled people want to be able to drive down those roads to take pictures of nature. Additionally, there are some backcountry horsemen who would love to take their horses back in there.”
Proponents for outdoor recreation lobbied lawmakers last year to create the Discover Pass, a day-use or annual fee for state parks, and Department Natural Resources and Department of Fish and Wildlife lands. The fee is meant to help the cash-strapped natural resources agencies compensate for fewer dollars from the state budget.
“Their advocacy down before the Legislature is just as important to make sure that we get the funding through the Discover Pass” and state grants, Goldmark said. “Their advocacy role is as important as the actual, physical work that they do out there.”
Questions about wildfire prevention and response often crop up as the candidates campaign throughout the state, after a summer of devastating blazes.
“We’re supposed to be stewards and shepherds of the land for a reason,” Skirko said. “When nature takes its course, of course nature can clean the forest, but nature cleans the forest in only one way, and that’s with fire. Man can clean the forest in a healthier way and take better care of it for long-term sustainability.”
Goldmark, a volunteer wildland firefighter, said wildfires’ economic impacts can linger for years after the blazes go out.
“If a forest is burned, why, then that’s going to detract from the recreational experience for sure, and in some cases close trails for years,” he said.