In what is to be the first piece of the Stewart Mountain Community Forest, Whatcom Land Trust (WLT) announced in a November 4 news release the purchase of 550 acres of forestland on Stewart Mountain.
The particular section of forestland, according to the news release, is considered one of the most ecologically and geologically sensitive properties on Stewart Mountain. The section has a steep grade directly along the South Fork of the Nooksack River, four salmon-bearing streams, and a stand of 125-year-old Douglas fir and western red cedar.
Traditional logging practices and continual landowner turnover on the mountain have contributed to declining watershed health in the South Fork of the Nooksack River below.
“Whatcom Land Trust has been honored to be part of a passionate and dedicated team working to bring the Stewart Mountain Community Forest to life,” said Alex Jeffers, WLT conservation director. “The Nooksack Indian Tribe has taken a lead on conducting research into understanding how forest management impacts our watersheds and how it can make our ecosystems more resilient to a changing climate. This important acquisition is a major step towards restoring natural system functions on Stewart Mountain.”
Stewart Mountain, about five miles outside of Bellingham on the east side of Lake Whatcom, is a patchwork of mature and old-growth Douglas fir stands, young, rapidly regenerating tree stands, and clearcuts. Six different timber companies have owned it over the last 30 years. Logging roads wind across the mountain, linking a cobweb of past and future timber harvests.
Whatcom County contributed $1.5 million in June to the purchase. In a 5-2 vote, with council members Ben Elenbaas and Tyler Byrd opposed, Whatcom County Council approved the appropriation of funds from the conservation futures fund to the forest initiative, which is managed by the WLT and partnered with other groups like the Nooksack Indian Tribe and Evergreen Land Trust.
Evergreen Land Trust contributed $300,000 from a Whatcom Community Foundation grant, and Whatcom Land Trust contributed $550,000 from donations.
WLT is a nonprofit organization with a mission to preserve and protect wildlife habitat, scenic, agricultural and open space lands in Whatcom County for future generations by securing interests in land and promoting land stewardship, according to its website, whatcomlandtrust.org.