The I-90 Land Exchange, a Southwest Washington Perspective
July 1999
By Brett Clubbe and the Gifford Pinchot Task Force

Plum Creek Timber Company and the Forest Service are poised to trade lands in Western Washington State. The goal of the land exchange is to consolidate high elevation National Forest Lands around the Interstate 90 corridor east of Seattle. In order to get 50 000 acres of land from Plum Creek the Forest Service is giving up 15 800 acres in three National Forests, the Wenatchee, the Mount Baker Snoqualmie and the Gifford Pinchot.

This appears to be a great deal for the American people. Plum Creek calls this a win-win deal. Their big win is that they get increasingly rare Ancient Forests in Southwest Washington, including groves of forest more than 450 years old.

Plum Creek Timber, set up as a limited partnership in 1989 is a spin off of the Burlington Northern Railroad, and therefore inherited much of the Northern Pacific Land Grant lands, given to the railroad in the late 1800s by Congress. Plum Creek has been clearcutting its holdings ever since and is famous for its square mile clearcuts around Snoqualmie Pass in Washington and in western Montana.

Land exchanges of this nature usually take from three to five years to complete. In order to speed this exchange along Plum Creek went to Senator Slade Gorton who slipped the I-90 Land Exchange onto last year's Omnibus Appropriations Bill as an amendment or rider.

To get the support of Washington's other senator, Patty Murray, Plum Creek enlisted veteran land trade deal maker Charlie Raines of the Sierra Club's Cascade Chapter. The Seattle based hiking clubs, including Sierra Club, the Mountaineers and Alpine Lakes Protection Society, pushed Murray to support the rider even though forest activists from the Forests that were giving up lands for this trade were united against it.

These hiking clubs all made the worst mistake one can make as an environmental activist: they traded a place they knew, Snoqualmie Pass and the Kelly Butte area for places they didn't know, like Watch Mountain and Fossil Creek in the Gifford Pinchot Forest. This is the same mistake then Sierra Club President David Brower made earlier this century when he stopped the proposed Grand Canyon Dam by making a deal that allowed for the damming of Glenn Canyon, a unique place that hardly anyone knew.

The Plum Creek rider, backed by Sierra Club's national office, effectively cut off any opportunity for citizens to challenge the exchange through appeal and litigation.

So what are we losing for Plum Creek's "win-win" deal?

I only know the parcels in the Gifford Pinchot Forest which total 5554 acres so that is all I can talk about here.

Fossil Creek is a tributary of the Kalama River, just west of the Mt. St. Helens National Volcanic Monument. Much of the Kalama River below Fossil Creek is part of Weyerhaeuser's Kalama tree plantation. Because all the land on three sides of the Fossil Creek area is private, the trees outside of Fossil Creek are no more than 50 years old.
The 2800 acres being traded from Fossil Creek includes one of only six groves of Ancient Forest, 450 years old and 200 acres in size, in Southwest Washington. This grove is contiguous with other groves over 300 years. These old groves are the furthest west old forest in SW Washington
Fossil Creek also hosts one of only three known colonies of Townsend's big-eared bats in Southwest Washington. This bat is a candidate for listing as threatened or endangered because they rely on ancient forest for their habitat. The Forest Service had decided not to log in Fossil Creek because of the ecological importance of these westernmost ancient forests in this part of Washington.

Watch Mountain stands 3500 feet above the community of Randle in the Cowlitz River Valley. The town once teamed with log trucks and mill workers but now the mill is closed and the National Forest logging program has been greatly reduced.
Plum Creek is well known around the Cowlitz Valley towns. Numerous landslides have stared from their clearcuts and slid down on the private property of local citizens. Soil on steep hillsides is held in place by the roots of the trees on the slope. When the trees are all cut and the roots rot out the soil tends to slide down hill when it becomes saturated with water. One slide near Glenoma in the winter of 1996 destroyed the home of retired logger Elmer Day. Plum Creek refused to take responsibility for the slide and Elmer Day is out over $100,000. Elmer Day had this to say about Plum creek "Everything they touched they just fouled it up, not just here but up Kiona Creek, up Rainey Creek and up in Morton."
The residents of Randle are very concerned that should Plum Creek clear cut the more than 2100 acres of Ancient Forest on Watch Mountain's steep south facing slope property owners along Miller Creek and Kiona Creek are in for destructive flooding and mud flows.
The Watch Mountain forest is also very important ecologically. Like Fossil Creek it abuts right up to private land that has been converted to tree plantations. There are more than 1000 acres of intact native forest without roads on Watch Mountain, much of it covered with forest groves over 300 years. These roadless wildlands are essential for maintaining habitat for a myriad of animal, plant and fungi species.
The Forest Service acquired part of Watch Mountain in a land trade in the mid 80's so that it would not be clearcut, now they are trading it to Plum Creek who has already surveyed the mountain and had their Asian timber buyers looking the forest over. They plan on exporting 80% of the trees on Watch Mountain and clearcutting all the land they will be getting within five years.

In order to draw attention to this ancient forest give away and the shady I-90 land trade, activists from Cascadia Defense Network have set up tree sit platforms in two ancient Douglas Fir trees along the main road up Watch Mountain. At a nearby camp activists and local people, many of them former timber industry workers, strategize on the best way to save Watch Mountain and the ancient forests of Fossil Creek from the unregulated saws of Plum Creek.

The transfer of deeds has now been delayed until October 31, 1999 because Plum Creek has found marbled murrelets nesting on land in the Green River drainage that will be traded to them. In order to protect the murrelets, which are listed as Threatened under the Endangered Species Act, Plum Creek would have to leave some of the forest intact for the birds and that would cost them money.
Plum Creek will go back to Slade Gorton, Patty Murray and the Sierra Club for another Appropriations Bill Rider. This is the time for Congress to scrap the I-90 Land Exchange deal altogether or at least keep it confided to lands only in the Snoqualmie Pass area. We should not be trading away some of our last ancient forest groves so that urban hiking enthusiasts can have views that are not marred by clearcuts.

Contact Your Congress people and educate them about this terrible deal. Democratic Senator Patty Murray and Congressman Brian Baird of SW Washington need to intervene and fix this mess and protect what is left of the native rainforest.

For more information or to help out contact the Gifford Pinchot Task Force at:
P.O. Box 11427, Olympia, WA 98512 360-753-4185
Cascadia Defense Network at: 360-497-5271 in Randle or 943-7284 in Olympia.

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