From The Olympian
October 4, 2022
One morning in late September, a mother deer led her fawn through the wreckage of what was once a complex forest. The pair weaved between smoldering mulch piles the size of houses to eat whatever greenery they could find. More than 20 acres of trees were cut down in June on the private property adjacent to a city-managed park in northwest Olympia. Now the property has new owners who are trying to restore the land before the rains come. The land to the east of Cooper Crest Open Space has been the center of controversy for locals and groups such as the Olympia Coalition for Ecosystems Preservation, whose executive director Daniel Einstein alleges the previous owners encroached on city property and made a profit on timber that wasn’t theirs. Einstein said that isn’t the only problem. He said the land is a “really important piece of property” that’s in a critical aquifer recharge zone, meaning water is able to easily seep into the ground and refill the area quicker than others. Without the forest there to help catch and soak up rainwater, there’s no telling what damage could be done from erosion and flooding once the rainy season comes.
“Anyone on a well in the city will have flow effects,” Einstein said. “It could affect water quality for everyone.”
THE LAND’S PAST
The property was owned by Silvimantle LLC, which was interested in developing the land for housing, Einstein said, but later determined it would be too expensive. The business bought 17.5 acres last year and another 7.5 acres in May. Einstein said they did that to bypass city permitting and allow them to submit a forest practices application with the Department of Natural Resources. The application was finalized May 13 and a public comment period lasted until May 27. The city of Olympia was among those who submitted concerns about logging the parcel to the DNR. They were worried not enough was being done to protect the wetland and seasonal creek that sometimes contains salmon. Einstein said the area is full of both steep slopes and wetlands, which can lead to seasonal flooding. Einstein said OCEP, a local urban conservation land trust, got involved in June with a plan to buy the property for $750,000, but no money to do it. They thought they had three weeks, but the trees were cut two weeks into their fundraising. The logging operations started June 25. In a statement made in July, DNR spokesperson Kenny Ocker said foresters and staff from the state Department of Fish and Wildlife visited the site before approving the application, which resulted in a 101-foot buffer from the stream. He said no evidence of a tributary of that stream existed, despite some residents arguing there was one.
Ocker said foresters were sent out to monitor the logging operations on June 25, and they found “no evidence to suggest permit violations.” OCEP has since purchased the property after securing a $225,000 grant from the Angela J. Bowen Conservancy Foundation and rallying the community to contribute funds alongside some OCEP reserves. Einstein said they could have bought it intact if they had more time, but now it’s important to restore it for the health of the watershed. CLEANING UP THE DAMAGE Einstein said there are springs all over the property, but they were obscured by slash piles left from the logging operations. Right now, they’re unsure of where the springs are and where water will start flowing in the coming weeks. He said there were dozens of piles, each the size of a two-story house. It’s since been ground to mulch, but the mulch has nowhere to go. Einstein wrote to Olympia’s Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee on Aug. 15 to propose a partnership between the city and OCEP. In the letter, Einstein said city parks employees visited the property adjacent to Cooper Crest on Aug. 10, and they discussed the possibility of managing it as publicly accessible open space. If the space were to be put under conservation status, more money could be provided for replanting the land and building trails. He said the proposal was well received by the committee, but funding has been too slow to come. With the season’s first rains coming soon, the land will soon become difficult to work.
“One of the things about restoration is time is a critical dimension, and it’s inflexible,” he said. “When the rains come, they come, and nobody can control that.” Einstein said they need of 300 cubic yards of gravel for trails through the property to make it both publicly accessible and for restoration purposes. It also helps control the amount of water seeping through the soil and directs more water toward streams and wetlands. But again, money was the problem, and $20,000 of it was needed. The city’s advisory committee couldn’t provide funding before council approval, and so OCEP turned to the public again. On Sept. 19, OCEP asked the public for donations so trails could be made, but they fell shy of their $20,000 goal, raising a little more than $12,000. So far, OCEP has spent more than $85,000 on emergency erosion control efforts, and Einstein said about $100,000 of restoration work will be completed within the next month.
When it comes to the alleged illegal logging on city property, city spokesperson Kellie Braseth said they’re currently investigating. “It’s a huge responsibility that we’ve taken on,” Einstein said. “And we’ve taken it on because it’s so important to the health of our salmon. And what we’re asking the city to do is live up to its obligations. We can move faster than the city, and we’ve shown that. We’re asking them to help support that effort.”
Read more at: https://www.theolympian.com/news/local/article266254756.html#storylink=cpy