Continuing the Legacy
In Whatcom Land Trust’s September newsletter, we focused on the Cascades to Chuckanuts (C2C) corridor, the last relatively undeveloped corridor connecting the foothills of the Cascade Mountains to the shores of the Puget Sound. This roughly 350,000-acre corridor has been the focus of many high profile projects including 2,260-acre Canyon Lake Community Forest. We are continuing the C2C story this month with an eye to permanently protecting commercial forest lands in the heart of our County and a deeper dive into the community forestry model explored in this companion story. Because the C2C corridor connects several of Whatcom Land Trust’s highest priority areas, the Trust is always looking for new opportunities to help protect and conserve land in this region.
Located between the South Fork Valley and Lake Whatcom is approximately 20,000 acres of land known as Stewart Mountain. Since European Americans settled in Whatcom County in the nineteenth century, this mountainous terrain has been primarily used for logging and recreation, and almost the entire property has been in private ownership
Protecting and restoring water resources for the health, prosperity and future of the South Fork Nooksack Valley is a key concern to everyone who lives, works and plays in the Valley. The eastern slope of Stewart Mountain drains into the South Fork Nooksack watershed. This includes eight major tributaries that provide salmon habitat for all five major species of Pacific salmon, especially endangered Spring Chinook and Steelhead. Water quantity and quality as well as water temperature in the South Fork Nooksack river are greatly impacted by forest management practices occurring in the upper watershed, of which Stewart Mountain makes up a significant portion. Ultimately, decisions on how to manager commercial logging on Stewart Mountain will be critical in determining the fate of local salmon populations in the South Fork Nooksack River.
The western slope of Stewart Mountain drains into the Lake Whatcom watershed. As you may know, Lake Whatcom provides drinking water City of Bellingham’s residents, as well as some County residents. This means that the quality of water draining into Lake Whatcom from Stewart Mountain directly affects drinking water for more than 95,000 Whatcom County residents. Whatcom Land Trust has helped permanently protect more than 10,000 acres in the Lake Whatcom watershed already through land purchases, conservation easements and facilitation of Department of Natural Resources forest land to the County Parks system for watershed protection and public recreation. We have a vested interest in helping to manage water resources on Stewart Mountain to continue our leadership role in protecting this watershed for future generations.
The Future of Stewart Mountain and C2C
In late September 2017, Stewart Mountain Timberlands, a subsidiary of Conservation Forestry, purchased around 14,000 acres on Stewart Mountain. Whatcom Land Trust will work with the new owner to identify shared goals and objectives to protect critical portions of the property, which may include Whatcom Land Trust purchasing some land or conservation easements from Conservation Forestry in the future, if necessary. This is an extraordinary opportunity for conservation objectives while preserving forestry jobs and potentially expanding public recreation options in Whatcom County. Stewart Mountain represents a connecting piece of land between the rural communities of the South Fork River Valley and the urban communities surrounding Lake Whatcom and the City of Bellingham. If we are successful in working with the new owners, we could add Stewart Mountain to the growing list of iconic properties that Whatcom Land Trust has protected in the C2C region.