By guest writer Shane Roth.
Ladies and Gentlemen of the Jury (of the Court of Public Opinion),
I support the reconveyance for a variety of reasons. I am mindful of the fact that many members of the community oppose, or are at least skeptical of it for a variety of reasons of their own. Now that the fate of the reconveyance shall soon be determined, I am grateful to NWCitizen for the opportunity to present here a few of my reasons for supporting it, as well as a rebuttal to some of the most often repeated reasons for opposing it.
Let's play stump the lake
After an acre of commercial forest is harvested, that acre becomes (for lack of a better word) stumpy. It loses the multi-layered canopy that allows for the efficient stormwater retention associated with a “natural forested condition.” And that acre will need several years, perhaps decades, before it recovers its canopy and resumes its full function as natural forest.
If the reconveyance happens, and the land is taken out of commercial forestry, all 8,800 acres of land will fully function in a natural forested condition all of the time. If the land continues to be harvested commercially, most of the 8,800 acres will function in a forested condition most of the time. But a meaningful portion of the land will always be in a stumpy state of recovery from being harvested. And during this recovery time, that stumpy portion of the land will not function in natural forested condition.
I ask the reader to imagine, for the sake of argument, that at any given time only 1% of this 8,800 acres is in a post-harvest stumpy state while it is commercially forested. Looked at another way, imagine that while this land is being commercially forested, 99% of the acreage fully functions as forest, year in and year out. (This strikes me as a substantially conservative estimate).
The difference between 100% and 99% of the reconveyed land is about 88 acres. More to the point, it is the difference between 88 acres of land either functioning in “natural forested condition” or functioning as a field of stumps. My read of the most recent Lake Whatcom TMDL report leads me to believe every acre in the watershed that can be made to function as natural forest is going to matter.
The county could potentially add dozens, if not hundreds, of acres to the Lake Whatcom watershed annual inventory of natural forest land just by reconveying the land and taking it out of active commercial forestry. All without directly impacting a single acre of privately owned land.
This is admittedly a “back of the napkin” estimate, but it does illustrate the potential for a meaningful water quality benefit to be enjoyed from the reconveyance. This is based on the argument that more acres of mature trees and fewer acres of tree stumps will tend to have a beneficial impact on water quality in the Lake Whatcom watershed.
Local Control versus State Control
Opponents of the reconveyance have presented an argument that the land is in better or surer hands if it is left in the custody of DNR. I disagree. As I see it, our community can get the undivided attention of our own county council more easily than we can get the undivided attention of DNR, or any state agency. I am not the only person who has noticed that the claims of DNR doing a cracker-jack job managing land inside the watershed are coming from the mouths of citizens who have no history of ringing endorsements for the efficiency or responsiveness of state government.
In this case, local control seems better. Particularly regarding the matter of Lake Whatcom.
Speaking of local control, this land is going to be the property of Whatcom County. The land will never be sold to Rand Jack, or the shadowy figure who cut a big check to the Mount Baker School District, or the Whatcom Land Trust, or any other bureaucratic bogeymen that live in the collective imagination of some reconveyance opponents.
Whatever organization is selected to manage the reconveyed land, that organization will always be answerable to Whatcom County.
I am relatively new to Whatcom County, so I don't know what Rand Jack did to earn such distrust among critics of the reconveyance, but he strikes me as a rather unconvincing villain.
In regard to this nefarious donor of unknown origin, it seem to me if you attribute a sinister motive to someone making a $500,000 donation to a school district, it says more about you than it does about the donor.
If I were donating $500,000 anonymously, I would make the school district enter into a binding non-disclosure agreement myself. I wouldn't want everyone with a cause knocking on my door and asking to see how pretty my signature looks on a check. But that's just me.
A Critical Mass of Park Land
If the reconveyance happens, the county's inventory of park land will pretty much double.
And, according to those opposing the reconveyance, that is somehow bad.
If the reconveyance doubles the amount of park land in the county, I'm okay with that. That's not a bug, it's a feature.
Is having too much park land actually a thing? Because I don't think it is. You can have too little park land. But too much? I don't see it. Nor have the opponents of the reconveyance made clear what is so terrible about having more park land. Exactly what catastrophe am I expected to believe is going to befall us if Whatcom County has twice as much park land? More Canadian tourists will visit us? Oh, the horror.
If securing my drinking water carries the risk of achieving some critical mass of park land that will cause pesky Canadian tourists to descend on us like hockey-playing locusts, that is a chance I am willing to take.
Show Me The Money
One argument made against the reconveyance is that it is an expense we can't afford right now because the county is broke. I find that argument particularly interesting.
There is an old joke about a guy who finds himself in a financial bind and asks a friend for a loan to help him through. The friend naturally agrees to the loan, and then says something like, “Well, I guess I won't see you at the weekly poker game for a while.” The punchline of the joke is that the broke guy says, “Oh, I have money for that…”
It is amazing how this “broke” county can find money to do all kinds of things when it sets its mind to it.
I recently witnessed the county council give the green light to a $50,000 payment to a Seattle-based law firm to defend the county's decision to thumb its nose at the Growth Management Act.
In 2011, the county council voted to lend about $4 million to Lynden. Ironically, the loan was for the purpose of securing Lynden's drinking water supply. LINK
If the county can afford to take on the Growth Management Hearings Board right now, and can afford to lend millions of dollars to Lynden right now, then it can afford to secure my drinking water supply. Right now.
Plan? We Don't Need No Stinking Plan!
Yet another argument offered against the reconveyance is that there needs to be a detailed plan in place first. We need to know exactly what this forest preserve is going to look like before we do anything or spend any tax dollars.
In rebuttal to this argument I direct the reader's attention to the county jail.
The county is going to purchase a parcel of land to site a new county jail, and they are going to pay millions of dollars for that land. The county doesn't know exactly what the new jail is going to look like. They don't even know how many stories the new jail facility will have. But the county is in the market for land for the jail anyway.
Detailed plans for land use projects are historically made after land is acquired, not before, for reasons that are painfully self-evident.
The reconveyance is the only low hanging fruit left to pluck in terms of restoring the Lake Whatcom watershed. There is no option to restore Lake Whatcom that is going to be easy, politically expedient, or free. Those who oppose the reconveyance appear to be allowing the perfect to be the enemy of the good. This low hanging fruit might not be particularly ripe, and might even be a bit on the mealy side, but I believe we must pluck the low hanging fruit first. All other actions on the horizon in terms of Lake Whatcom's restoration promise to be far more expensive and challenging than the reconveyance.
Regardless of your views on the reconveyance, I heartily encourage as many citizens as possible to attend the hearing on this matter on Tuesday, March 12th at 6 p.m. in council chambers.
The defense rests.
Shane Roth regularly contributes to Latte Republic as Apexnerd. He has lived in Whatcom County since 2008. He and his wife, Wendy Harris, reside in the Silver Beach neighborhood of Bellingham, which is inside the Lake Whatcom watershed. They habitually question authority and watch Netflix, though not necessarily in that order. Shane is an outspoken advocate for the reconveyance and an equally outspoken opponent of inappropriate use of the Comic Sans font.