- A lack of clarity, “The public is unclear about what this park is going to be.” Louws cites various special interests, who have filled in the blanks with all of their hopes and fears. He notes that the public is unclear about how the park will be managed. Louws cites confusion over what will be permitted in the park.
- Saying, “The decision is not time sensitive,” Louws indicates that “the property is blocked up,” and we can wait a month or a year. This time may be required to accomplish the tasks that he lays out later in his memo.
- Executive Louws summarizes, “I believe the core issue is that we do not have an adequate plan developed that the council has weighed in on and approved.” He notes that a business would follow a more organized approach, determining if an opportunity is viable based on sound analysis.
Up until the hearing, many presumed the reconveyance was done deal. So surprised were the proponents, that they characterized the sudden resistance as “last ditch” and desperate. WE saw it differently. WE thought outcry was deserved. The silent majority was awakened abruptly, and they’re not hitting “snooze.” While some newcomers arrived at the podium poorly informed, and a few made notable factual errors, most were not opposed to parks, recreation or clean water. They simply demanded due diligence, proper accounting and honesty. Some pointed out accurately that the proposed land use is inconsistent with a number of laws and policies.
Statements in the article that followed the hearing in the Bellingham Herald would lead readers to believe that opponents raised unjustified fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD) based on misinformation. But the article failed to mention anything about the desperate FUD campaign that proponents led through rabble-rousing messaging like “Defend the Lake Whatcom Forest Preserve,” suggesting that council had already approved the park, which is simply not so. Here's a peek at a campaign webpage:
(4:31:22) "I am not sure that our community understands what this is going to be. We don’t even know what we’re calling it. We’ve got: Lake Whatcom Preserve, Lake Whatcom Reserve, Lake Whatcom Forest Preserve Park, Forest Preserve, Forest Preserve Park, Preserve Park, Forest Reserve, Whatcom Forest Reserve. We don’t know what it’s really going to be used for. We’ve heard: mountain biking, hiking, horseback riding, wind energy generation, untouched habitat, forest, logging, old growth, it’s a filter for Lake Whatcom, it’s a destination spot for mountain biking, it’s carbon sequestering, we’re going to do it for the views, attracting businesses, we’re going to have it to protect into perpetuity, we’re going to have a conservation easement, we’re going to have jobs for our recreational industries, jobs for our foresters, a low impact recreational area, a legacy, we’re going to have off road vehicles, I want to have a zipline, we’re going to have hunting, bird watching, wild food foraging – those were just some of the things that I took out of the countless e-mails.”
Kershner hit the nail on the head. The testimony of 46 “opposed” and 36 “for” made it clear that this was not a community united (“with 74% support”) but a community in utter confusion. FUD is the inevitable result of murky policy and sloppy process. If reasonable doubt hadn’t been raised, there might have been an up-or-down vote on September 11th. The way to eliminate the FUD is for county government to specify exactly what we’re getting, what it will cost, and what the risks and benefits are, in terms that all concerned can verify is the truth.
To this point, the project has been under the direction of the county Parks Department and a short list of organizations. For all their coalition building, supporter interests varied (some quite radically). When the general public attempted to research the proposal, they found tons of hyperbole but few facts to draw on. Those with a “dog in the hunt” left everyone in a difficult position.
The question at the forefront is, “What’s the justification for so much parkland?” Whatcom County already has the highest park acreage per capita of any county in the state based on contributed data gleaned on the internet. See how holdings would spike remarkably if this 8,844 acres were added by the stroke of a pen:
Without question a lot of park property obtained in recent years is unfinished, many properties are under-utilized, and some facilities have maintenance problems like the senior centers. With so much work undone, a twofold increase in park acreage is more than a minor blip. Empire builders contend that parks are self-supporting cash cows that fill coffers with revenue from leases, grants and fees. If that were true, Parks would have a break-even budget. Of course it doesn't. The majority of its park costs are paid from the General Fund.
Without much quality “public process,” the 2008 Park, Recreation and Open Space Plan contained level of service goals that came as a shock to quite a few who researched this department’s ambitions. Expansion plans blithely proposed a significant burden on everyone:
As for this, some say the reconveyance is a once-in-a-lifetime deal. How so? In what universe? The public already owns this, why spend more to continue to use it? Although some claimed the transfer from DNR would be a bargain at twice the price, cheap, or even free, rough estimates to add 50 miles of trail and complete the park are as high as $1,600,000. Are there priorities higher than parks? “Nice to have” doesn’t mean you can afford to do something, or afford to keep it -- especially when many other, legitimate government functions could languish. What about our critical jail and related mental health needs, homelessness, and hunger? WE found newcomers' demands to create a "legacy" more than little insensitive if not outright insensible.
The land in question is already in the public’s hands, and it currently provides a positive cash flow for taxpayers. After the reconveyance, it will have a negative cash flow. That should rightly concern everyone. Proponents do a lot of hand waving about tourism and new, “sustainable” business, but without a bird in the hand, or at least a concrete, tangible plan -- the business case is just vaporware.
Some hold that the reconveyance idea was environmental perfection at conception, the perfect solution for improving Lake Whatcom’s “impaired condition” if logging ended and roads were removed. Some have gone so far to say that (how many?) hundreds of years from now the forest could be “old growth” again. The truth, we find, is that the science behind those promises is far from certain. An impeccably qualified scientist who reviewed a number of popular local theories reflected,
"Ecologists usually neglect to include all the facts and should not be practicing geology. The roads are so minor and insignificant that they have very little impact to what is naturally going on in forested areas. … ignore simple geologic processes of erosion (landslides are a part of erosion). They believe that anything humans do is bad, even though it is insignificant and the slope will continue to erode with or without the roads (roads will actually reduce some of the erosion, because it will have controls to slow the water that runs down this slope during the rainy season).
Any natural forest with steep slopes will have mass wasting and when you look at the size of the forested areas, the amount of mass wasting is significant. Forest roads create negligible sediments and erosion problems and the modern day roads are designed to prevent these problems (they have BMP storm water controls).
I do not know of any old growth forests anywhere in the Puget Lowlands and forest land by definition is not old growth (this is set aside for harvesting activities). ... LiDAR imagery ... would see the geomorphology of these areas and the historic landslides that have and will continue to occur in these areas, especially those with streams in the valley floors. The main reason for the failure is undercutting of the slopes by these streams, although these streams will swell a bit larger because of the additional runoff, this is minor compared to the entire watershed."
The precautionary principle is alive and well ...!
And after reviewing a slide show theorizing that logging inevitably leads to slides and water degradation,
"I do note that ... discussion is on geologic hazards and surface and groundwater hydrology, which is somewhat interesting, because … need to be licensed to present their scientific opinion to the general public, and more importantly, to present to policy makers. This is what happens when you have those who practice geology without bothering to actually learning it. ...approach makes too many assumptions and does not consider all of the factors associated with landslide events. Additionally, landslides occur all of the time on steep slopes (we see them every time we conduct studies in areas with steep slopes). Just look at the trees and you can see that they are not perfectly straight, they are bent at the lower trunk levels, this is evidence that the ground they were growing on moved.
This is not a very scientific study, what about forest fires and other natural problems such as diseases that wipe out entire stands? Also, landsliding typically only occurs in small areas where the slopes are steep, I doubt that all of the forested land is like this, so ... numbers are off by a large factor. Surface erosion can cause landslides, especially if the toe of a slope is cut (this is what causes many of the shoreline landslides). What is much worse is what we see all of the time, the construction of stormwater infiltration facilities above steep slopes. Also ... misses the unsaturated zone flows (which is how much of the infiltration facilities actually “infiltrate, especially on ridges above steep slopes).
Everyone knows that when an area is deforested that there is an increase in surface and subsurface flow, however, this does not last for much more than about 10 years, because the understory and young trees will cover much more area than the large trees and will remove just about as much water as a stand of mature trees. Also erosion is reduced pretty quickly as grasses, herbs, shrubs, and immature trees (red alder saplings are usually very dominant initially). ... overlooked how quickly mother nature can fix these problems, after all she has had a lot of practice and forest fires denude area around the world every day. Also, landslides do occur on completely forested areas that were never touched by loggers. These is a whole section of a forest sitting in Lake Sammamish that slid there about 1,100 years ago."
Council acknowledged in May that the Washington Department of Ecology has been cautious about overselling the proposed park's environmental improvement promise. Even Cascadia Weekly just ran an article explaining the weakness of claims that the park will fix the lake. While WE think that no-net-loss demands go too far, at least a little realism seems to be kicking-in on this issue. Will it last?
WE think responsible adults would demand proof that the proposed action will actually have the desired effect, whatever it is claimed to be. And there needs to be accountability and an exit strategy if crystal ball prescience (in the absence of scientific proof) fails to materialize. WE are concerned about who will control this land, and for how long. Proponents accused the opposition of calling Whatcom Land Trust “an evil bogeyman”. That seems like a mis-characterization of legitimate questions: Should future decisions about the fate of this land be ceded to a private, agenda-driven organization (or their assigns)? Should anyone without direct responsibility to the voters -- the land’s true owners -- force us to pay for whatever they decide?
WE thought Mother Nature might be giving us all a little wink when Marbled Murrelets reportedly appeared in this working forest. Ma Nature is a tough cookie, and seems to recognize that the stewardship of humans has a rightful place in the order of things. After all, we’re her children too.