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County council approves $1.5 million for Stewart Mountain Community Forest


Clearcuts on the northeast side of Stewart Mountain. Ian Haupt photo

Whatcom County Council will contribute $1.5 million to purchasing 550 acres of forestland along the South Fork of the Nooksack River in what is to be the first piece of the Stewart Mountain Community Forest.

In a 5-2 vote, with council members Ben Elenbaas and Tyler Byrd opposed, council approved the appropriation of funds to the forest initiative managed by the Whatcom Land Trust and partnered with other groups like the Nooksack Indian Tribe and Evergreen Land Trust. The plan of the initiative is to convert 5,500 acres of forest around Stewart Mountain into a community forest that will be protected and used to restore the watershed.

The first purchase of 550 acres will cost $2.345 million, according to council’s budget request. Evergreen Land Trust will be giving $300,000 along with the county’s $1.5 million, leaving the initiative short $545,000.

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. Logging roads wind across the mountain, linking a cobweb of past and future timber harvests.

Plans for the community forest include building a network of trails on the land for hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding.