PORT GAMBLE — The final chunk of North Kitsap forest land available for purchase from Pope Resources has been acquired, the culmination of a decade of work by the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe, Suquamish Tribe, Forterra, Great Peninsula Conservancy, numerous nonprofits and donors, and Pope Resources’ Olympic Resource Management.
Kitsap County is now home to the Port Gamble Forest Heritage Park. The 1,500 acres of forest land were secured by the group on Dec. 22 for $3.5 million. Over time, the group raised money to acquire 4,000 acres made available as separate “blocks.” Pope Resources had planned to put the 4,000 acres on the market, making it available for development, but gave the coalition — known as the Kitsap Forest & Bay Project — time to raise money to purchase the land for public use and habitat protection.
County will hold title
Advocates say the forest lands will serve as a lasting testament to the natural majesty of Kitsap County.
“This is iconic,” said Michelle Connor, executive vice president of strategic enterprises for Forterra, a conservancy group that worked on the acquisition. “The Port Gamble forest is an iconic property that folks in the future will look to.”
It’s also an important link in the Sound to Olympics Trail. A trail will course through these lands, connecting the Olympic Peninsula (via the Hood Canal Bridge) and Kitsap Peninsula (via ferries and bridge) to the Burke-Gilman and the Olympic Discovery trails on the mainland.
The forest land was owned since 1853 by Pope Resources and its forerunner, Pope & Talbot, which operated a mill here from September 1853 to November 1995 and developed a town in the style of the founders’ hometown of East Machias, Maine.
The company is backing out of logging in North Kitsap, preferring to concentrate on the development of the town of Port Gamble into a year-round community. Pope Resources is also developing Chatham and Arborwood in North Kitsap. However, Olympic Resource Management has retained the right to conduct one more timber harvest in Port Gamble Forest Heritage Park within the next 25 years.
Jon Rose, president of Olympic Property Group, the real estate arm of Pope Resources, regarded the retention of timber rights as an innovative means of meeting the group halfway. By allowing Olympic Resource Management to continue to harvest, the acquisition cost was significantly decreased, thereby allowing the coalition to acquire more land.
“Without doing that, there would only be a few hundred acres that would have happened in this transaction. Instead, there’s over 1,500,” Rose said. “It’s a long-term vision that will be here for generations.”
Rose noted that after the existing timber has been harvested, the county will be able to plant a more diverse array of native species, returning the lands to a more natural state.
“This region is facing unprecedented growth pressure,” Rose said. “The one thing that we can take comfort in is that a huge piece of North Kitsap is going to stay unchanged forever.”
He added, “We laid down our differences and we pulled off something that was remarkable. The only way that could happen was through an honest partnership.”
Jeromy Sullivan is chairman of the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe. According to Sullivan, the S’Klallam name for Port Gamble is Noo-Kayet, meaning land of the midday sun. The waters of Port Gamble Bay have been a lifeline for the S’Klallam people, who have fished here since time immemorial.
Sullivan said allowing Olympic Resource Management to harvest the timber wasn’t an ideal arrangement but rather one which ultimately allowed for the long-term survival of the bay.
“It’s going to look bad, I’m not going to lie,” Sullivan said of future harvests. “But it’s an opportunity that we can use for the future and health of Port Gamble Bay.”
Sullivan said of Pope Resources, “They’ve really been doing their part to make things right for things that occurred over the last 170 years.” Pope Resources recently completed a lengthy cleanup of the mill site’s near shore and uplands.
Sullivan commended organizers and donors for their work on the land acquisition. “I really appreciate all the effort that we all put in. It was a really grass roots effort … I feel really good about this.”
Connor agreed. “Given the importance of securing the land base for the future and the importance of the ecological features of the property, we tried to hit the sweet spot of conserving the oldest, largest trees [and] conserving the areas that were the most sensitive.
“[We] then made this sort of judgment call that we would have an opportunity to replant these forests into a mixed, diverse species blend that would reflect what that native forest would have looked like historically … to create that true diversity that you would see in a lowland Northwest forest. Kitsap County had some pretty tremendous foresight in undertaking this.”
Invoking the old adage, “You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone,” Connor said, “I think the community knew what it had and it stepped up to make sure that it would be there for the future.”
— Nick Twietmeyer is a reporter for Kitsap News Group. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.