Dunn not giving up on Snoqualmie Tree Farm land trust plan


Associated Press
King 5 News

WASHINGTON, D.C. Rep. Jennifer Dunn and other advocates say they are not giving up on efforts to preserve more than 100,000 acres in the Cascade Mountains east of Seattle.

Weyerhaeuser Co. said this week it will sell the 104,000-acre Snoqualmie Tree Farm to a Boston timber management company, after a proposed deal with a Seattle conservation group fell through.

Dunn, a Republican from Bellevue, Wash., had been working to change federal tax law to allow the nonprofit Evergreen Forest Trust to issue tax-exempt bonds to finance the $185 million purchase.

A one-year timeline to complete the deal expired in January, and Weyerhaeuser said Monday it will sell the land to Hancock Timber Resource Group, a subsidiary of John Hancock Financial Services.

While deeply disappointed, Dunn said she hoped to work with the new owners to revive at least part of the deal.

"I was sick when I heard about" the sale, Dunn said Wednesday in an interview. "We've worked so hard, and this is an innovative approach. We've always believed it could be a great national model."

By setting aside 80 percent of the Snoqualmie Tree Farm for timber harvesting, the proposed deal would have set up a source of revenue to pay off the bonds used to buy the land, Dunn and other advocates said. The remaining 20,000 acres would have been set aside as permanent open space.

Evergreen Trust, a nonprofit formed by Northwest business, political and environmental interests, hoped to keep forest land near urbanized areas such as Seattle and Bellevue from being developed. While allowing some logging, the failed deal would have established large buffer areas around rivers, wetlands and other sensitive areas.

Despite its agreement with Weyerhaeuser, the trust needed Congress to clarify federal tax law to allow it to issue tax-exempt bonds. A House vote on the bill was expected March 6, but was delayed when some lawmakers objected to unrelated tax provisions included in the bill.

Dunn said she remains optimistic about House passage of the plan, which is attached to a larger bill on military benefits. A vote could come by the end of the month, she said.

Even if Congress approves the tax change, however, Dunn and other advocates know they have to work with Hancock, an East Coast company unfamiliar with many of the key players in the preservation plan.

Dunn is wasting no time. She has scheduled a meeting with Hancock president Dan Christenson on Thursday - as a reminder of the project's urgency. "He needs to sit down and work with Evergreen Trust as early as he possibly can," Dunn said.

In a statement, Christenson said he is eager to do just that.

"Hancock Timber Resource Group has a long history of working with conservation groups to protect sensitive lands," he said.

"We genuinely look forward to exploring opportunities to protect the sensitive areas of the Snoqualmie Forest as we have done in the past with many other local communities and conservation groups."

Gerry Johnson, president of Evergreen Trust and managing partner of the Seattle law firm Preston Gates Ellis, said he is optimistic much of the original plan can be revived with Hancock.

"We're not giving up on the concept," he said Wednesday, "and we're certainly not giving up on trying to achieve some of the conservation for the Snoqualmie Tree Farm in particular."

The forest falls within the ranges of the northern spotted owl and marbled murrelet and provides habitat for salmon and other wildlife. It includes two major rivers, several smaller ones and more than 4,000 acres of wetlands Without a deal similar to the one reached with Weyerhaeuser, "that land will remain at risk of development," Johnson said, "whether now or 10 years from now."

Resource Links
Evergreen Forest Trust

Weyerhaeuser Co.

Hancock Timber Resource Group


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