Lumber prices are the highest they’ve been in more than a decade, land values on the Key Peninsula are rising and logging trucks continue to roll along the KP highway while more signs advertise newly logged land for sale.
The pace of change to the landscape can seem dramatic because companies can log and sell land under a state permit instead of the more rigorous requirements of a county permit designed to mitigate the effects of logging and development, according to state and county officials.
By taking advantage of what Aileen Nichols, Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) field forester for South Puget Sound, called “a loophole,” and Adonais Clark of Pierce County Planning and Land Services (PALS) said is a “way too easy way to lift the moratorium,” many parcels on the Key Peninsula are logged and then developed despite a state-imposed six-year moratorium intended to allow forestland to recover.
“Ninety-nine percent of logging permits on the Key Peninsula are from the state, and requirements are not as restrictive as they are with the county,” said Clark. “They are exempt from the 50-foot buffer along KP Highway and State Route-302, public notice is not required, and logging in forested wetlands is allowed.”
A county permit must be obtained if land is to be cleared for development except for construction of a single-family residence or clearing for pasture. Because it is assumed that the forest will be gone forever, county rules focus on protecting wetlands and streams due to permanent ongoing impacts of development.
A state permit to log is granted if the landowner has no plan to convert the property to other use. There is a six-year moratorium on development of land when it is logged with a state permit to allow the forestland to recover. But that requirement can be sidestepped.
Many companies are logging land on the KP, but of the 43 logging permits submitted to the state in the last nine months, 17 came from Cedarland Resources, a company managed by Ben Cedarland. In 10 of those applications, Cedarland is both the owner and the logger. In all 10 cases, permits included the plan to log 80 percent of the land and set the remainder aside as a new home site.
Here is one example:
In September 2016, Cedarland applied to the state for a permit to log a 7.4-acre parcel in Longbranch. The landowner was an individual with a SeaTac address. Based on wetland conditions, the permit was Class III. The application noted that 1 acre of land would not be logged, but would be set aside for future development as a single-family residence.
The state permit was approved Oct. 18 with the condition that the loggers “protect wet areas and nontyped water location to minimize disturbance of subsurface water flow.”
The land was sold Oct. 19 to Batjack Holdings LLC for $42,500, according to PALS. The registered owner and sole governor of Batjack is Ben Cedarland, according to the secretary of state’s office. The land was logged and is now on the market for $44,950 with Jesse Cedarland as the listed agent. It is described as follows: “Great opportunity to own 7.4 acres in Longbranch. Property has been cleared and is ready for your imagination to go to work. Lots of privacy while still offering the convenience of paved road frontage. Power is in the street, well and septic will need to be explored by potential buyers.”
Asked for comment on his company’s activities, Ben Cedarland replied in an email to the KP News that read in part, “We do our best to comply with the terms of each permit and have a good working relationship with both Pierce County and the Department of Natural Resources. With respect to selling/developing properties after we have harvested the timber, we are not trying to skirt any rules or regulations but are simply following the legal process that is available to us.
“This process not only makes sense and strikes a reasonable balance between private property rights and government regulation, it also provides a way for the average landowner to be able to harvest a portion of their property without tying the entire parcel up in a six-year moratorium, which would be unfair and would have a negative impact on many people. Many of the people that we do harvest for have held their property as part of their retirement with the idea of harvesting the timber and selling the property when they retire. If the entire parcel is put into a moratorium, then their resale value would be significantly impacted and their retirement income would be severely decreased.
“I understand that logging is not popular and it is an easy thing for people to get upset about because it creates such a sudden and drastic change. The reality is, however, that 80 percent of each parcel we are currently logging on the Key Peninsula will be replanted and will remain in forestland. The other 20 percent will be available for someone to build a future home on, which will have the same impact irrespective of the logging activity on the other areas of the parcel.”
Pierce County Councilman Derek Young is aware of this practice on the KP. “This has been an issue in other parts of Pierce County as well,” he said. “Part of the problem is that trees are now harvestable, lumber prices are good, and, even more important, the value of land in the area has gone up.”
Both Young and Mike Kruger, senior legislative analyst for land use and conservation futures with the county council, said their primary goal is to ensure that if the plan is to convert land that has been forestland into a home site, that the county rules for logging are followed. According to Nichols of the DNR, remediation efforts to sensitive environments, like wetlands, after they have been logged are never as effective as simply following the county permit requirements to protect sensitive environments in the first place.
Because it is relatively easy in Pierce County to lift the development moratorium once land is logged under a state permit, PALS will review those regulations and make recommendations for amendments. Kruger said that changes could be made later this calendar year.
They will also consider whether or not the fee schedule for permits might be adjusted in a way to encourage landowners to log under a county permit as the first choice.
Young hopes to work directly with the DNR to better coordinate some of their rules with the state, such as requiring buffers along the KP Highway and SR 302.
Councilman Young can be reached at 253-798-6654 or at firstname.lastname@example.org