(BRANDON HANSEN/Chewelah Independent)
State senate passes bill establishing community forests pilot program…
A bill that would establish a community forests pilot program has passed the state senate by a vote of 41-5 and is in committee in the senate, signaling another victory for the Chewelah Valley Land Trust and their goal to preserve the Gold Hill area near the Chewelah Golf Course.
The Chewelah Valley Land Trust is hoping to purchase 400-acres of Hancock land and preserve it for hiking, biking and other outdoor activities. The non-profit group would manage the grounds as a community forest and is hoping for state grants that could be acquired through this pilot community forest program.
Jake Wilson, one of the members of the Chewelah Valley Land Trust, said that Chewelah’s Gold Hill project is ranked in the top three for programs that could receive money if the legislation is passed for the pilot program.
According to the state Senate’s bill, the goal of the pilot program would be to empower local communities to establish community forests by acquiring land and managing them as forestland for community benefits and demonstrate the feasibility of establishing an ongoing competitive grant program.
The senate report, a community forest is owned and managed by or on behalf of a local community, and the governance structure of a community forest ensures collaboration and community participation in management decisions and the allocation of revenue generated from the forest.
As the goal of the Chewelah Valley Land Trust, the community forest would mean reliable access to the forest for community members.
“People need to have the foresight to think ahead,” Wilson said in a prior article. “Developers will come in, and develop land like these 400 acres. If they develop this, then the community loses that land that they could previously access. That’s the kicker, we want to keep green spaces, parks, forests and recreational areas as the area continues to grow.”
The 400-acre pine forest piece in question offers awesome views of town, with old skid roads providing some good mountain biking and hiking. Wilson pointed out that while the northern part of Stevens County has a lot of Forest Service trails and recreation opportunities, that is somewhat less an option here in the southern central part of the county. At least, trails and areas that people know they have access to.
“The idea would be to fill that void,” Wilson said. “This is a huge, varied piece of land that could be awesome for the community and help increase tourism to the area.”
Despite the bill passing overwhelmingly, there is some concern about the changes of management. According to the amended bill, it would change the management of of community forest pilot program from the Department of Natural Resources to the Recreation and Conservation Board. Wilson said that this move would make aquiring land cheaper than dealing through the DNR.
Under this bill, lands would not be able to be sold or subdivided without prior approval from the Recreation or Conservation Funding Board.
If land ceases to be managed by the community through the program, it would fall back under management by the DNR.
Senator Shelly Short said that changing the management could cause issues as the Recreation and Conservation Board isn’t primarily focused on forest management and in the past hasn’t worked well with county commissioners in the seventh district.
While Short voted no on the bill, she said she supports the local Chewelah project but was concerned with that change from DNR management, and wanted more description in terms of how the timber would be managed under the program.
“There isn’t a tremendous amount of description on how timber management would work,” Short said, adding that some people have voiced their concern about these community forests being taken out of timber production.
Still as bills work their way through both houses, Short said she could see further changes to it, and maybe even a switch back to DNR management. Currently the bill is in committee in the house.
She said if changes were made, it would be something she would support.
If the house bill is approved by the house committee, it would go to the floor for a vote. Wilson is currently encouraging people to call their local representatives Jacquelin Maycumber and Joel Kretz in support of the bill to help the Gold Hill project.
Quartzite Brewing Company, of which Wilson is an owner of, has already hosted two trivia nights and raised about $1,200 for the Chewelah Valley Land Trust, but the organization would be needing some state grants to move forward with the Gold Hill project.