Saving Blanchard Mountain

Permalink +

Sat, Oct 03, 2009, 9:00 am  //  Ken Wilcox

Looking northwest from Blanchard Mountain. Dominating is Lummi Island with small flat Eliza Island in front of it. Orcas Island to the left and Portage Island to the right. The stunning view of islands continues for 100 degrees to the left.

[This is an updated and abridged version of an article published earlier this year in The Wild Cascades, journal of the North Cascades Conservation Council]

Controversy is still stewing at Blanchard Mountain in northwest Skagit County, where the North Cascades Conservation Council (NCCC) and the Chuckanut Conservancy won a major court victory in July 2008 requiring the DNR to complete a full environmental impact statement (EIS) for its logging plans.

The Blanchard State Forest, as it's known by the DNR, contains, by far, the largest unprotected block of maturing coastal forest left in the greater Puget Sound region.

Not only does the area have very high environmental and recreation value to surrounding communities, it's just the kind of forest that global warming experts say should be preserved more widely to help capture and store carbon, while reducing outputs of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

Despite a severe budget crunch, the state is spending public tax dollars fighting the Blanchard battle in court, rather than working toward an amicable settlement of the lawsuit. To date, our new Commissioner of Public Lands, Peter Goldmark, has not intervened in the debate, nor exerted the kind of green leadership that was promised during the election campaign. He does insist he’s keeping an open mind.

The latest round at Blanchard Mountain began last December when the previous Commissioner, Doug Sutherland, just before departing from Olympia, filed an appeal of the lower court's decision. Goldmark, or perhaps his advisors, has been unwilling to withdraw that appeal or place it on hold while the parties discuss a potential settlement, thereby forcing conservationists to continue defending the mountain in court.

Much is at stake here. If Goldmark chooses not to act, Blanchard Mountain's roadless character, extraordinarily unique in the Puget Sound region, will be lost. The impacts will be severe for the landscape as a whole and will be immediately felt by tens of thousands of trail users annually. With nearly twenty miles of trails currently, and plans in place for at least ten miles of new trails, it is a critical part of the most heavily used year-round trail system in Northwest Washington.

And these aren't just any old trails in the woods. The five-star hike to Oyster Dome is well known from Seattle to Vancouver. The classic view from the top of a 300-foot cliff would be marred by new roads and logging nearby. A portion of the newly christened Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail, extending 1,200 miles from the Pacific Ocean to the Continental Divide, cuts through the heart of the Blanchard State Forest. The trail passes through areas the DNR intended to log last year, had NCCC and the Chuckanut Conservancy not slowed the Sutherland juggernaut.

Several other trails, including more than a mile of the Lily and Lizard Lakes Trail, perhaps the most prized forest hike on the mountain, are also on the chopping block.

The Sutherland plan called for barely a shoestring connection between a proposed "core area" on Blanchard and a 2,000-acre wildland within Larrabee State Park immediately to the northwest. This corridor is undoubtedly the best opportunity in the Chuckanut Mountains to secure significant habitat connectivity between two relatively large wild areas. The issue was left entirely unaddressed in the Sutherland plan.

This spring, the Chuckanut Conservancy commissioned a brief economic overview by Earth Economics of Seattle, which found that when direct and indirect economic benefits, such as ecosystem services (like clean water and carbon sequestration), enhanced property values, expenditures by recreationists, and associated tax revenues are taken into account, not logging Blanchard Mountain may be contributing more than $13.7 million in economic benefits each year. By contrast, timber revenues from Blanchard, after expenses, would likely be less than a half-million dollars per year, according to the DNR's own figures.

The argument is often made that our schools depend on these timber dollars to build new infrastructure. Yet the Burlington-Edison School District, the largest single beneficiary of timber revenue from Blanchard State Forest, would barely receive enough money to paint a new gymnasium, let alone build it. Even in good times, timber revenue for the school district has been in the range of about one-quarter of one percent of the annual operating budget. Adding one or two cents to a typical two-dollar construction levy would more than make up for the timber revenue coming off of Blanchard Mountain. Yet conservationists are not asking the DNR to suspend all logging. They are simply asking for better protection than what’s been offered.

We can all appreciate that the new commissioner has his hands full with a wide range of important issues, but prolonging the court battle seems not the best way to make this particular headache go away. It's a hopeful sign that Goldmark claims he wants all voices to be heard, that he wants public resources and the natural environment to be well cared for. The real test is whether he can put those grand intentions to work where it counts.

If he's successful, he'll have plenty of support along the way. The Sierra Club, North Cascades Audubon Society, Bellingham Mountaineers, Coast Watch Society, Chuckanut Conservancy, NCCC, People for Puget Sound, Habitat Watch and other groups are all on record as opposing the Sutherland plan for Blanchard Mountain.

The DNR should drop its appeal and begin work toward developing a science-based plan that responsibly protects much of the mountain. One might hope that with Goldmark's impeccable scientific credentials (he holds a PhD in molecular biology), he could craft a sensible path to resolving the debate by inspiring a new plan for saving Blanchard Mountain. Such a plan could also accommodate a viable working forest, while providing a hedge against forest land conversion and urban sprawl, worthy objectives that have been all abuzz among state lands advocates in recent years. Such a plan would likely enjoy broad public support.

Blanchard Mountain, as PI columnist Joel Connelly wrote in 2008, is "worth fighting for." It is the highest part of the Chuckanut Mountains, the only place in the Cascade Range where substantial foothills extend all the way to saltwater. It harbors the only known coastal nesting habitat in the Puget Sound region for threatened marbled murrelets. The area offers one of the best coastal launch sites in the state for hang-gliders and paragliders. It is adjacent to two of the state's fastest growing urban centers, including a population of a quarter-million within a ten-mile commuting radius.

In fifty years, it could be the last, largest and best example of what the Puget Lowlands were really like before we mucked it all up with pavement and strip malls. It's a gorgeous place. And you can see it from space.

The superlatives ought to mean something.

For more information on Blanchard Mountain or to contribute to the cause, please visit

Commissioner of Public Lands Peter Goldmark can be reached at (360) 902-1004, or by email at

For more information about the North Cascades Conservation Council, visit

Editor note: Ken has written several NW Washington hiking guides. They are available at NW Wild Books . Local ones are also available at Village Books in Fairhaven and several other local shops.

Related Links:

-> Chuckanut Conservancy
-> North Cascades Conservation Council

Tom Pratum  //  Sat, Oct 03, 2009, 9:38 pm

Thanks Ken for your tireless work on behalf of Blanchard Mt, and the Chuckanuts in general. I hope more folks speak up, and that Commissioner Goldmark listens.

Saving Blanchard Mountain

Sat, Oct 03, 2009, 9:00 am  //  Ken Wilcox

[This is an updated and abridged version of an article published earlier this year in The Wild Cascades, journal of the North Cascades Conservation Council]

Controversy is still stewi

1 comments; last on Oct 04, 2009

Wooden Boats

Fri, Sep 11, 2009, 9:00 am  //  Ken Wilcox

Whatever happened to the building of wooden boats on Bellingham Bay? The tradition and the history are rich here, as people like myself, oblivious to the craft, learned…

1 comments; last on Sep 13, 2009

Paper Dreams in Fairhaven

Next door to Village Books

Word to the Wild #4:  Watery Walks for Rainy Days

Fri, Sep 04, 2009, 9:00 am  //  Ken Wilcox

McMillan Spire in the North Cascades’ Picket Range has been on my peak-baggers to-do list since the 1980s. Barely a week ago, three friends and I finally locked…


Word to the Wild #3:  High Country Still Calling

Fri, Aug 28, 2009, 9:00 am  //  Ken Wilcox

If popular Cascade Pass has been on your to-do list this year, then now’s the time to-do it. This weekend or next would be especially good—because it’s about…


Word to the Wild #2: Alps Outings / Mount Baker

Fri, Aug 21, 2009, 11:23 am  //  Ken Wilcox

Summer hiking in the American Alps (our fantabulous North Cascades) is at its zenith, and it's Friday and I'm already dyin' to get back out there.... so for…

1 comments; last on Aug 21, 2009

Word to the Wild #1:  The American Alps

Thu, Jun 04, 2009, 4:58 am  //  Ken Wilcox

This is the first installment of a new column by Ken Wilcox on the Northwest outdoors--for active, reactive and proactive people.

Much of interest is brewing these days in…

1 comments; last on Jun 05, 2009


Election Info

County election results

State election results

Coal, Oil & Trains

Community Wise Bellingham
Powder River Basin R. C.

Local Blogs & News

Bellingham Herald

Bham Herald Politics Blog
Bham Politics & Economics
Cascadia Weekly
Ferndale Record
Friends of Whatcom
Get Whatcom Planning
Latte Republic
League of Women Voters
Lynden Tribune
Northern Light

Twilight Zoning
Western Front - WWU
Whatcom Watch

Local Causes

Chuckanut Community Forest

City Club of Bellingham
Conservation NW
Futurewise - Whatcom
Lake Whatcom
Lummi Island Quarry
N. Cascades Audubon
NW Holocaust Center
RE Sources
Reduce Jet Noise
Salish Sea Org.
Save the Granary Building
Transition Whatcom
WA Conservation Voters
Whatcom Peace & Justice



Port of Bellingham
Skagit County
State election results
US - The White House
WA State Access
WA State Elections
WA State Legislature
Whatcom Auditor
Whatcom Auditor
Whatcom County

Weather & Climate

Cliff Mass Weather Blog

Climate Audit
Nat Hurricane Center
NW Radar
Two day forecast
Watts Up With That? - climate


Adventures NW

Edge of Sports
Entertainment NNW
Famous Internet Skiers
Recreation Northwest
Sailing Anarchy

Good Web Sites

Al-Jazeera online

Alaska Dispatch
Arab News
Asia Times
Atlantic, The

Common Dreams
Crosscut Seattle
Daily Kos
Daily Mirror
Drudge Report
Foreign Policy in Focus
Guardian Unlimited
Gulf News
Huffington Post
Innocence Project, The
Intrnational Herald Tribune
James Fallows
Jerusalem Post
Joel Connelly
Juan Cole
Julia Ioffe/New Republic
Le Diplo
Media Matters
Michael Moore
Middle East Times
Nation, The
New American Century
News Trust
Online Journal
Palestine Daily
Palestine News
Paul Krugman - economics
Personal bio info
Portland Indy Media
Progressive Review
Project Vote Smart
Sea Shepherd
Stand for the Troops
Ta-Nehisi Coates
Talking Points Memo
The Crisis Papers
The Intercept
the Oatmeal
War and Piece
Washington Votes

NwCitizen 1995 - 2007

Early Northwest Citizen

Quiet, Offline or Dead

Bellingham Police Activity

Bellingham Register
Bob Sanders
Carl Weimer
Chuckanut Mountains
Citizen Ted
Citizens of Bellingham
Cordata & Meridian
David Hackworth
Facebook Port Reform
Jack Petree
N. Sound Conservancy
No Leaky Buckets
Northwest Review
Post-Oklahoman Confessions
Protect Bellingham Parks
The American Telegraph
Wally Wonders