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Originally published Thursday, May 8, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Washington buys Snohomish County tree farm to ensure it stays green

Almost 1,000 acres of forest land east of Arlington will be preserved from development under a purchase agreement approved Tuesday by the...

Seattle Times staff reporter

Almost 1,000 acres of forest land east of Arlington will be preserved from development under a purchase agreement approved Tuesday by the state Board of Natural Resources.

The $4.15 million acquisition of a working tree farm is the largest in a program created by the 2007 Legislature to buy up to $70 million of forest land facing conversion to housing or other nonforest uses. The 985-acre property was also given high priority because it is adjacent to existing state trust land.

Conservationists praised the purchase and said the state fund created to preserve at-risk forests is doing what it was intended to do.

"The biggest threat to forest lands is its conversion to other uses, even in places once considered as remote as this," said Gene Duvernoy, president of the Cascade Land Conservancy.

Since the Legislature approved spending the money last year, the Department of Natural Resources has focused on purchasing threatened forestland from willing sellers. The state targets land that, if lost to development, would threaten the viability of surrounding working forests.

"Washington is losing its working forests to housing developments and other uses at an alarming rate," said Doug Sutherland, commissioner of public lands, in announcing the purchase agreement.

Once the purchase is finalized, the land will become part of the state's school-trust lands. The proceeds from timber sales on the land go toward school construction.

The property, currently operated as the Bear Creek Tree Farm, is about five miles east of Arlington and 10 miles east of Interstate 5. It lies just east of Jim Creek and an area known as Arlington Heights that is quickly becoming a commuter suburb of Everett and even Seattle.

Hardy Davidson, an Arlington Realtor who represented the owners in the purchase negotiations, said there are few small, private timber operations left in the area.

"A lot of things could have happened to this land to move it toward development if the owners weren't conscientious about keeping it green," Davidson said.

The owners, Lee Taylor and his sisters Mary Ellen Hogle and Nancy Taylor Mason, were caught by surprise by the state's announcement of the sale, which has not yet been finalized. Taylor said the land has been on the market for about five years. The family did not want to sell to a developer, but until the state approved the fund to preserve threatened forests it hadn't been able to buy the property. The sale price was determined by an independent appraisal.

"The announcement seems a little premature," Taylor said. "We've been in this dance with them before. It must mean they're confident it [the sale] will go through."

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The family has owned the land since the 1950s and has operated the tree farm on a sustainable-yield basis, cutting down only as much as was growing to replace it, he said.

Taylor, 63, recalled a long-ago offer on Nabisco Shredded Wheat cereal boxes. By returning a coupon on the back of the box, people could purchase 1 square inch of the Northwest Territories in Canada. He said the people of Washington will soon hold title to his tree farm.

"Congratulations, you're the new owner." he said. "Every one of you."

Lynn Thompson: 206-464-8305 or lthompson@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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