Congress approves coalition's purchase of Plum Creek forest

by Jon Savelle
King County Journal Reporter

Northwest forest conservation got a boost Thursday with the passage by Congress of its 2003 omnibus tax bill.

The bill contains $4 million for the purchase of Plum Creek timberlands along Interstate 90 by the Cascades Conservation Partnership.

The ongoing project has had broad bipartisan support among the state's congressional delegation, local governments and conservation groups.

``Rep. Jennifer Dunn, Sen. Patty Murray and Rep. Norm Dicks all put significant effort into this,'' said Fred Munson, deputy director of Northwest Ecosystem Alliance. ``This is a great example of how it should work.''

The alliance is administering the purchase program, which aims to buy up a patchwork of private timberlands in the Cascades and transfer them to the U.S. Forest Service. Many of those lands are owned by Plum Creek Timber Co., which favors consolidating land ownership.

The checkerboard pattern of state and private lands is left over from congressional land grants to railroads in the 1800s. In an area of the central Cascades, ranging from Mount Rainier in the south to the Alpine Lakes Wilderness in the north, the pattern covers 75,000 acres of private land.

A three-year effort by the partnership, begun in 2000, aims to protect all of it.

Approval of the 2003 budget helps that process, but the 2004 budget is another challenge. President Bush's proposed 2004 budget zeroes out dollars for the land exchange, a circumstance that provoked outrage when he announced it earlier this month. About $10 million more is needed by the partnership to exercise purchase options with Plum Creek, which will log the lands if they are not sold.

Dunn, however, said she is undaunted by Bush's budget.

``The president's budget is his budget,'' she said. ``We have our budget. I will get to work, as I have the last three budgets, to get money set aside for this.''

That work, she added, was to start last night -- as soon as the 2003 bill was approved.

Jon Savelle can be reached at or 425-453-4231.


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