Conservation easement along 30 miles of Hoh River makes some valley residents edgy

Peninsula Daily News

Forks, WA - Where the murky waters of the Hoh River flow from mountain peak to Pacific Ocean, a debate is brewing over an attempt to protect the river's riches.

A conservation group is acquiring acreage along the lower 30 miles of the river outside Olympic National Park to form a corridor that would ensure the river, its fish and surrounding wildlife are permanently protected.

But many of the residents in the sparsely populated valley oppose the intentions of the Hoh River Project, skeptical of the mission and worried that they may lose access to the land that some of their families have inhabited for generations.

``Everybody has kind of the same consensus,'' said Rob Cappelle, a Florida transplant who has lived in the Hoh River valley since 1998 and owns the Hoh River Resort.

``We want it stopped.''

Salmon-protection groups

The Hoh River Project has grown out of a partnership between Western Rivers Conservancy and the Wild Salmon Center, two Portland, Ore.,-based nonprofit organizations jointly committed to protecting the species-rich salmon ecosystems in Pacific Northwest rivers.

The project aims to put about 10,000 acres of land along the lower 30 miles of the Hoh River into a trust that will own and manage the land forever.

With the top 26 miles of the river already inside Olympic National Park, the river's entire length from Mount Olympus to the ocean would be protected.

Since 2001, Western Rivers Conservancy has purchased about 3,500 acres along about seven miles of the river bank, the majority of it from timber company Rayonier Inc. and some small acreage from individuals.

Land ownership in the valley is a mix of state Department of Natural Resources, timber company and private individual holdings.

$25 million goal

The project aims to raise $25 million in public and private funds to support its goals.

To date, the project has raised $5.1 million, said Jenny Nixon, Hoh River Project executive director.

That figure includes $3.55 million in public funding from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the state Department of Natural Resources, said Portland-based project manager Josh Kling of Western Rivers Conservancy.

The 3,500 acres will be deeded to the trust -- a separate, nonprofit entity -- later this year when the project secures more funding, Kling said.



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