What is “Save the Forest Now?”
Save the Forest Now is a campaign to raise $4.2 million dollars by September 10, 2010, to protect permanently what is often referred to as the former Trillium property. At 664 forested acres, it is the largest contiguous piece of land under individual ownership on Whidbey Island. In the past few years the property was subdivided into approximately 124 housing lots before falling into foreclosure. This gave the community, under leadership of the Whidbey Camano Land Trust, an opportunity to purchase it.
Where is the Trillium property?
The Trillium property is located just north of Freeland on the west side of Highway 525, east (or inland) of Smuggler’s Cove Road. The property stretches two miles in length. The northern part is just south of the magnificent old-growth forest in South Whidbey State Park.
Why is the property important?
The community has a one-time opportunity to keep this large expanse of undeveloped land intact and allow it to renew itself to a lush and vital forest.
Together, we can protect a healthy, sustainable forest that provides wildlife habitat, public recreational opportunities, and a place where current and future generations can experience the wonders of nature.
Do we have time to acquire and save the property?
The Land Trust recently purchased an option to buy the Trillium property. The option gives the Land Trust and the community until September 10, 2010, to raise the $4.2 million dollars required to purchase and permanently protect the forest for recreational use, wildlife habitat, water resources, and forest renewal.
Who will own the property if it is purchased?
The Board of Island County Commissioners has agreed that Island County will accept title to the 664-acre Trillium property if the Whidbey Camano Land Trust is successful in its efforts to purchase it. If the Land Trust needs to take out a bridge loan to enable it to purchase the property, we will own it until the loan is repaid. Regardless of who owns the property, the Land Trust will hold a conservation easement (a legally-binding permanent agreement) on the property to ensure that wildlife habitat is protected, the public can enjoy recreational activities, and current and future generations can continue to experience the joys of nature.
What will happen to the property if we can’t raise the money to purchase it?
If we are unable to raise the $4.2 million dollars needed to permanently protect the property, it will be sold to private parties and developed. This private ownership will most likely prevent public access to the forest for hiking, birding, horseback riding, and mountain biking. Wildlife habitat won’t be protected. And the forest won’t have the opportunity to renew itself.
How will the property be managed once it is saved?
A portion of the funds raised will be set aside to help manage the site. Part of this funding will be used to develop a site-management plan that will make sure the needs of wildlife and other natural systems are balanced with community recreational use. The plan will include a forest-restoration element, and members of the community will have the opportunity to help the forest renew itself.
The community will need to help monitor and care for the property, much as it does for other land in the county, such as the Putney Woods. A site-management plan will be developed to restore the forest to a sustainable, healthy condition, and determine appropriate uses and locations of trails, and other items.
Who owns the land now? Isn’t it already too late to protect it? Hasn’t it already been logged?
In recent years, the land was sold to investors, divided into 124 housing lots, went into foreclosure, and was acquired by the lending banks. The banks have sold the purchase option to the Land Trust to give the community until September 10, 2010, to raise the $4.2 million dollars needed to protect the property permanently.
For much of the property’s history, it was owned and periodically logged by timber companies, to the consternation of many members of the community. Now, 22 years later, we have one last chance to reclaim and protect the property for everyone to enjoy forever. Already, the forest is renewing itself and, with some strategic management, it can become lush and healthy once again.
What wildlife and trees are currently in the 664-acre property?
The habitat diversity offered by mature stands of Douglas fir, western hemlock, and red alder, interspersed with lush wetlands, and expansive areas of vigorous younger alder and Douglas fir forests, attracts numerous wildlife species. The large size of the property and diversity of habitat types provides plenty of space for foraging, shelter, breeding, nesting and protection from predators. Species present include black-tailed deer, coyotes, hoary and silver-haired bats amphibians and reptiles; a variety of neo-tropical migrant songbirds such as Pacific slope flycatchers, alder flycatchers, orange-crowned warblers, black-throated grey and Wilson’s warblers; a variety of resident birds such as winter wrens, Bewick’s wrens, spotted towhees, Swainson’s thrushes, and robins; and several varieties of raptors and owls, including red-tailed hawks, screech owls, great horned owls, and kestrels.
The trees are mostly young Douglas firs, western hemlocks, and red alders, interspersed with big-leaf maples, western red cedars and Sitka spruces. There are still stands of mature conifers and alders as well as young, regenerating stands. A lush, flourishing native understory of salal, huckleberry, ferns, ocean spray, and other species is growing throughout the property, in both younger and older forest areas.
The property includes parts of three watersheds. The largest watershed flows into Mutiny Bay. Two smaller watersheds drain to the west, one at Bush Point and one that flows through South Whidbey State Park. There are wetlands and small streams distributed throughout the property that are critical to support the many wildlife species found here.
How will the wildlife and trees be impacted if we are unable to purchase the property?
If our effort fails, the property will most likely be sold to private parties and developed. Unfortunately, the opportunity to protect it will then be lost forever.
When forest land is converted to residential property, this kind of diverse wildlife habitat disappears and never returns. Roads create barriers to wildlife movement and homeowners replace trees and native understory with buildings, lawns, and driveways. Water is directed to culverts and ditches rather than slowly seeping back into the aquifer. The property is particularly important because of its large size. The larger the tract, the better able it is to provide habitat for species that need large areas. If the area is broken into smaller pieces and houses are built, habitat will be fragmented and will support less wildlife. This ecological disruption is irreversible. If the property is developed, Whidbey Island will lose a large wildlife habitat and corridor with a rich diversity of species.
It’s important to plan for smart growth. Whidbey Island will continue to develop, but we need to focus development in the right places, where things like roads and utilities are already in place, not in one of the last, best, large, forested properties on the island.
How will wildlife be impacted if the property is purchased and is then accessible to more hikers, bikers, and horseback riders?
The site can sustain both human recreation and habitat for wildlife. A management plan will be developed and implemented that allows for reasonable public recreation while taking into consideration the needs of wildlife. Narrow trails and quiet recreational use do not disturb small birds and other wildlife in the same way that roads, cars, houses and lawnmowers do. There is already a limited network of established roads and trails within the boundaries of the property. These can serve as the primary system for trails. The preliminary plan is to allow:
- Horseback riding
- Bird watching
- Dog walking
- Bicycling (non-motorized)
- And more
Isn’t it better to have the property used for houses? Couldn’t Whidbey Island use the jobs?
South Whidbey Island currently has more than five years’ worth of vacant (undeveloped) land on the market. To add 124 more lots into this depressed real-estate market would drive the prices of the existing lots down even further and wouldn’t result in new jobs. In fact, it would hurt the many people who are desperately trying to sell their vacant land – they don’t need any more competition!
In addition, developing the 124 lots isn’t “smart growth” because the property is located in a relatively undeveloped area of Whidbey Island and will require an incredible investment to provide the needed infrastructure, including roads, septic systems, drinking water, and utilities such as electricity, telephone, and cable. It will also place a burden on public services including fire, police, and paramedics. Since there is a ready supply of vacant land, the best use of this 664-acre forested property is to protect it as open space to help maintain the great quality of life on Whidbey Island.
What would the amount of property tax shift be if the Whidbey Camano Land Trust was able to buy and protect the 664-acre property?
There is not a simple answer to this question as it involves a number of factors that must be considered, as addressed below. For example, if the Trillium property were developed with residences, the cost to Island County taxpayers will be more than the community expects to gain in taxes and other benefits. On the other hand, if it remains in forested open space, there is a cost-savings to taxpayers
It has been shown by many economic studies that most development results in some tax shifting. For the past 15 years, economists have been assessing the net economic benefit to communities of developing land, known as the costs of community services (COCS). These studies are a subset of a much larger field, known as fiscal analysis, which weigh anticipated economic benefits from development against the cost of delivering infrastructure and services such as fire and police protection, schools and roads. The American Farmland Trust (AFT) completed 128 COCS studies in 25 states between 1989 and 2007. In averaging the results of these studies, researchers concluded that for every dollar communities received from residential development, they had to provide $1.16 in services. In general, the studies show that delivering services to residential development almost always costs more than the community expects to gain in taxes and other benefits. These impact costs are then “shifted” to all taxpayers.
Contrary to the cost incurred by taxpayers of residential development is the savings to taxpayers from farm/forest/open space uses. According to a study by Dr. John L. Crompton at Texas A&M University, for every $1 million received in residential development revenues, the median amount communities spent on public services was $1.16 million. For every $1 million in tax revenues from farm/forest/open space uses, the median amount spent on public services was $350,000. (LTA Exchange Vol. 26, No. 3).
To minimize such tax shifting that occurs with residential development, the concepts of smart planning and smart growth need to be considered. By building close to existing infrastructure and services, the impact costs of development in the Trillium forest property is significantly reduced. The next phases of growth and development in Island County should occur in or close to those areas where infrastructure already exists. There is no lack of such properties. On the south end of Whidbey alone, there is presently an five year supply (at current selling rates) of vacant lots that are listed for sale. There also is an eighteen month supply of already-built residences. This huge vacant residential property and home supply provides more than ample opportunity to replace the proposed development of the Trillium property which, had it been truly economically viable, would not have fallen into foreclosure. Assuming that development was shifted to these more appropriate and economically beneficial areas, the tax revenues would also be shifted to these sources. Such a result produces a win, win, win, win, win situation. Homes are built, jobs are created, construction money is spent in the economy, taxes are collected and the forest still remains in open space, available to all members of the community forever.
In addition to the above information, any tax shift that occurs by keeping the Trillium property in open space will be more than offset by the economic, environmental and community benefits described in the answer to the question “What were the special Economic Ramifications and Incentives that relate to this purchase?”
What were the special economic ramifications and incentives that relate to this purchase?
Open space produces significant economic, environmental and community benefits.
The economic benefits are important. Property values immediately adjacent to open space have been shown to increase. In general, property values in communities that care about and provide open space have been shown to increase. Open space is considered one of the key contributors to quality of life. Quality of life has been recognized as one of the key factors in attracting new businesses to communities. New businesses in turn create jobs, attract employees and serve as the building blocks for a sound economic and financial base. Quality of life is also a key factor in attracting new residents. This was acknowledged by the Whidbey Island Association of Realtors when they recently endorsed the Trillium project.
Open space also attracts tourists. Tourists shop in our stores, eat in our restaurants and sleep in our hotels, motels and Bed and Breakfasts.
The environmental benefits are important. Aquifer recharge is provided. Watersheds are protected. Our drinking water is protected. Habitat and sanctuary are provided for wildlife.
The community benefits are important. The community is provided with a place to gather. The community is provided with a place to enjoy the wonders of nature and to choose from a wide variety of non-motorized recreational activities. This in turn enhances the health of our residents. If a more passive activity is elected, folks are welcome “to just come and rest their souls” as Al Hammon wished for use of his donated property near Cultus Bay.
Taking these benefits into consideration and then applying common sense to the equation results in a project worthy of the support of the Island County Commissioners and all members of the community.
The following is an excellent summary of these benefits from the article “Livable Places: How Protecting Land Benefits Us All,” by Edith Pepper Goltra (LTA Exchange Vol. 26 No. 3):
“Too often we hear that communities feel they must choose between economic growth and land conservation. In reality, protecting open space is a building block for economic growth, and it may be one of the smartest financial moves a community can make.”
“Increasing evidence suggests that parks and natural areas are an investment that yields important benefits, such as fiscal relief, improved public health, strengthened neighborhoods, environmental protection, and preservation of natural beauty—all of which makes communities more livable. Some of this evidence comes from academic circles. Other evidence comes from the first-hand experience of community leaders and government officials who have found that open space protection does not “cost” but rather “pays.”
“Conventional wisdom typically held that development is the “highest and best use” of land for increasing municipal revenues. The truth is that residential development generally translates into heightened financial burden for cities and towns.”
What biological corridors need protection, and for what animals?
The Trillium property, because of its large size and lack of development, provides a natural corridor for many native wildlife species as they move from one place to another, whether that travel is by air or land. This property is located between Holmes Harbor and Admiralty Inlet and the Mutiny Bay wetlands and South Whidbey State Park. Wildlife corridors (what you are terming “biological corridors”) are necessary because they maintain biodiversity by making connections that allowing breeding between separate populations, provide refuge and feeding grounds and provide access to nearby habitats.
Wildlife corridors connecting other habitat areas, such as South Whidbey State Park, the Mutiny Bay wetlands and open waters, are crucial since they increase the effective amount of habitat that is available for species and effectively reverse habitat fragmentation. This is especially important for migratory animals and those with large home ranges. Larger habitats support greater biodiversity, larger populations, and a wider range of food sources and shelter. They also allow populations to i improve their long-term genetic viability. (From: the website of reliableprosperity.net and WA Department of Fish and Wildlife).
The large size of the Trillium property and diversity of habitat types provides plenty of space for foraging, shelter, breeding, nesting and protection from predators. Species present include black-tailed deer, coyotes, hoary and silver-haired bats, amphibians and reptiles; a variety of neo-tropical migrant songbirds such as Pacific slope flycatchers, alder flycatchers, orange-crowned warblers, black-throated grey and Wilson’s warblers; a variety of resident birds such as winter wrens, Bewick’s wrens, spotted towhees, Swainson’s thrushes, and robins; and several varieties of raptors and owls, including red-tailed hawks, screech owls, great horned owls, and kestrels.
Will the $50,000 “management” money promised by the Whidbey Camano Land Trust be enough over time, and if not would the County be responsible in any way for paying for ongoing “management” of the property?
Island County and all of its residents are receiving a substantial benefit from this proposed project. The Whidbey Camano Land Trust is committed to raising the $4.2 million needed to acquire this property from the banks who became the owners through foreclosure. The majority of the funding to purchase the Trillium property will come from private donors. Once the Land Trust raises the necessary funds, the property will be donated to the County and the Land Trust will hold a Conservation Easement.
Recognizing the County’s current economic status, the Land Trust has committed to raising at least $50,000 fund to handle expected operating and maintenance costs for, at the minimum, the next five to seven years. It is very likely these funds will last for many more years given the County’s experience at Putney Woods, which is comparable to the Trillium project proposal. At Putney Woods, the county costs are basically servicing a port-a-potty and occasionally emptying the garbage can.
The Land Trust is also committed to working with the County under the provisions of its recently adopted Adopt-a Park ordinance to organize a park maintenance program based on the model already operating so successfully at the Putney Woods and other county parks. The Backcountry Horsemen, who are excellent stewards for Putney Woods, is eager to put their members to work at the Trillium property. The Land Trust will also partner with the County, as we have successfully done in many other situations, to secure grants and other funding sources to cover the costs of forest restoration and recreational improvements.
In partnership with the County and all our fellow residents, the Whidbey Camano Land Trust believes we can make this great community effort to save the Trillium forest happen. And when it does occur, the economic, environmental and community benefits described above will far outweigh any minimal costs that may arise in the future.
The Commissioners and the community are to be commended for their foresight and courage in supporting the Trillium project. In future years, it will be one of the best bargains the County ever negotiated. Future generations will appreciate the treasure they will still be enjoying – a spectacular mature forest, open for all to enjoy, that continues to provide important ecological functions.
Just what is it that the Whidbey Camano Land Trust believes ownership would “protect” this land from? What other legal uses does the Land Trust believe would harm the Public? How and why?”
We are not protecting this land “from” anything. We are protecting the Trillium property for the community, for future generations, for the wildlife, and for the environment.
Why is the property referred to as the “Trillium property?”
The forest property was owned for about 15 years (from 1988 to 2003) by Trillium Corporation of Bellingham. The “Trillium property” is how many in the community refer to it. In 2003, Trillium transferred the property to two individuals who sold it several years later to developers and investors. They then divided and subdivided the property into 124 lots.
How do I visit the property?
The property is not currently open to the public because it is still privately owned. The Land Trust and its volunteers will be leading tours of the property. To learn more, see other areas of this website, or call the office at 360.222.3310.
What happens to my contribution if we don’t raise enough money to purchase the property?
If we can’t raise the funds to acquire the Trillium property, contributions will be applied to another important forest project on Whidbey Island (such as the Admiralty Inlet Heritage Forest) after the minor expenses related to this project are paid. If you prefer to have your contribution go only toward the Trillium project, you can make a pledge.
How can I make a pledge?
If you want to contribute only to the acquisition of the Trillium property, please complete a pledge form and send it in. The Whidbey Camano Land Trust will contact you by September 1, 2010, to fulfill your pledge.
What can I do to help?
Volunteer: The Whidbey Camano Land Trust is coordinating volunteer efforts that include activities that will help save the 664-acre property.
Join the ‘Save the Forest Now’ e-mail list: The best way to keep your finger on the pulse of this project is to join the e-mail list. The Land Trust will send messages as developments unfold.
Spread the word: There is very little time to save this incredible 664-acre property. Please contact your friends and neighbors and inspire them to join the cause. Become a fan of the Whidbey Camano Land Trust page on Facebook and encourage your friends to become fans, too.
What if I have a question that isn’t answered in this FAQ?
Check the comments section below to see if it’s been answered. If it hasn’t, post your question as a comment.
Heartfelt thanks to Corrine Bayley, Craig Johnson, and Donald J. Miller for allowing us to use their photos.