If Whatcom County is to take ownership of land around Lake Whatcom, officials must decide how to manage the thousands of acres of forest.
County Council members will meet Tuesday, Jan. 29, to discuss forestry management on 8,844 acres of commercial timberland now under state control. The council is considering whether to approve a transfer of that land to the county, for use as a park. The meeting, the second of three to discuss plans for the proposed park, starts at 9:40 a.m. at the county courthouse, 311 Grand Ave., Bellingham.
The preferred forest plan in the early stages of planning for the land transfer, or reconveyance, was to allow the trees to revert to an old-growth condition, county Parks and Recreation Director Mike McFarlane said. The county could opt to thin the forest, to encourage more diversity of tree species, or call on the state Department of Natural Resources to continue to manage the land in limited areas for timber harvesting.
Any forestry plan must address the fact that timber harvesting promotes landslides, which causes phosphorus pollution in the lake, McFarlane said.
"It's significant, and that's not something DNR argues with," McFarlane said. "The science is out there."
Even after the transfer, the state would retain some land in the lake's drainage area for timber harvesting, McFarlane said. The county park would cover slightly more than half of what is now state-managed timberland in the watershed.
"The areas the county's getting are the steepest slopes least conducive to intensive forest management," McFarlane said. "The state will retain areas where the slope is not so steep, farther from the lake."
The state still will be responsible for fire protection on the land if it becomes a county park, McFarlane said.
The first 20 minutes of Tuesday's meeting will continue the discussion from Jan. 15 about recreation options in the park. County Executive Jack Louws said he didn't hear from enough council members at that first meeting.
The council is divided on the park proposal. Some members see it as a boon for recreation and conservation. Others would prefer the land stay under state control, to continue generating timber jobs and revenues for schools and other taxing districts.
The third meeting, on the park's budget, is scheduled for Feb. 12.