A proposed clear-cut of 28-acres of private woodland adjacent to Cougar Mountain Regional Wildland Park has generated concern and resistance from residents and the cities of Newcastle and Renton.
An application to clear-cut the land was submitted to the Washington state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) on April 20 by Dalpay Properties, which owns two parcels of land that lie inside the city of Newcastle as well as King County. Erickson Logging was listed as the logging company. The property runs roughly in a rectangular shape north from Southeast May Valley Road and 150th Place Southeast north up the mountainside to the crest of DeLeo Wall.
Despite its location inside city boundaries, Newcastle City Manager Rob Wyman said Dalpay Properties was able to apply to DNR directly due to state law, which allows landowners to do so when a proposed timber harvest area is greater than 20 acres. However, letters penned by both Renton and Newcastle to the DNR said they believe the application was incorrectly filed. If an area of woodland has critical habitat areas, such as steep slopes or salmon habitat, local jurisdictions are given a greater say in the application process.
“This is a critical habitat area, there’s bears there, there’s eagles,” Wyman said. “There’s a lot of wildlife.”
Wyman is concerned about the possibility of erosion, damage to local drainage basins and a loss of wildlife habitat.
A comment period on the proposed logging ended on May 3 and the DNR will now decide whether to issue the permit within 30 days or put a pause on it to further study its impacts. The northern end of the logging area encompasses a popular hiking destination known as the DeLeo Wall, which offers sweeping views of Mt. Rainier and Newcastle.
“We are initially here trying to get DNR to pump the brakes and give us time to do a deeper analysis of that site,” Wyman said.
Aside from environmental concerns, the clear-cut would be a “scar” on the mountain, causing permanent damage to its woodland aesthetic. While Erickson Logging would replant the trees, which are a mixture of Douglas firs and deciduous, it would be decades before they grew enough to match the surrounding vegetation. The existing trees are roughly 80 years old.
Locals have started a citizen group known as Save DeLeo Wall. Eva Lundahl has written a book on the trails winding through forestland near Newcastle and is a member of the group. She is concerned about the potential loss of habitat, hiking trails and property value for nearby homeowners if the area is logged. Lundahl estimates affected homeowners could lose up to 10 percent of their property value on $1 million homes if the forest is logged.
The potential for slope destabilization, water run-off, fire danger from drying slash on the site and harm to salmon habitats were also on her list of concerns. The letter from the city of Newcastle to the DNR notes the logging area is close to May Creek, which is a salmon-bearing stream with “complex” and “fragile” characteristics. The land additionally has many steep and forested areas within it.
Dalpay Properites could not be reached for comment on this story.
Erickson Logging has attempted to clear-cut nearby areas of forestland in the past. The most recent attempt came in 2012 when the company purchased 226 acres of land near the headwaters of May Creek. This proposal was similarly met with resistance from locals before the property was purchased for $5 million by The Trust for Public Land and King County. It was subsequently turned into the Cougar/Squak Corridor Park.
This proposal also comes at the same time when a separate property owner on the east side of the Cougar Mountain park is trying to develop a 57-unit housing complex on 45 acres near Issaquah. The proposal has prompted a similar backlash in Issaquah as a group called Save Cougar Mountain has mounted a campaign to block development based on similar environmental concerns.