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Land conservancies raising money to buy 7,000 acres of North Kitsap forest from Pope Resources
POULSBO — Two land conservancies are raising money to buy 7,000 acres of North Kitsap forestland from Pope Resources.
If successful, the purchase would preserve from development the land and two miles of waterfront on the west side of Port Gamble Bay, keep it available for public access, and free Pope Resources' Olympic Property Group to concentrate on making Port Gamble a more viable year-round destination.
Olympic Property Group president Jon Rose said he expects the agreement with Cascade Land Conservancy and Great Peninsula Conservancy to be signed within two weeks. He would not disclose the purchase price.
The conservancies will have 18 months to raise the money. Rose said Olympic Property Group will assist in the effort to obtain grant funding.
If successful, the purchase will accomplish what Olympic Property Group had hoped to accomplish through the North Kitsap Legacy Partnership, which fizzled after County Commissioner Steve Bauer, a proponent of the partnership, resigned. Olympic Property Group proposed giving the 7,000 acres to Kitsap County in exchange for denser development rights in Port Gamble. That proposal was opposed by the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe, which was concerned about the possible impacts of development on Port Gamble Bay. And county officials were concerned about the cost of maintaining 7,000 acres of public land and trails.
“It’s just going a different route that requires more public finances and fundraising,” Rose said.
Rose envisions the construction of up to 200 homes and a hotel on Port Gamble’s 120 acres. He's also envisions redeveloping the old mill site into an environmental learning center. He said his company will be filing a project application with the county to develop Port Gamble according to current zoning standards. He said the development could be done by Olympic Property Group or a new owner.
Olympic Property Group is the real estate arm of Pope Resources; Olympic Resource Management is the timber arm. Pope Resources spun off from Pope & Talbot, which was founded in 1849. The company established mills at Port Gamble and Port Ludlow, and modeled the town of Port Gamble on the owners’ hometown of East Machias, Maine. The Port Ludlow mill closed in 1935, the Port Gamble mill in 1995. Pope & Talbot went bankrupt in 2008.
All property in Port Gamble is owned by Pope Resources. The village is a national historic landmark and is a venue for athletic events, car shows, festivals, and weddings. Its historical museum was designed by the same designer of the Royal B.C. Museum in Victoria. But the village does not make money; Rose said Olympic Property Group subsidizes it for as much as $750,000 a year.
Rose said Pope’s main business is “growing trees”; Pope's assets include 114,000 acres of timberland and investments in 61,000 more, according to the company's website. Pope also owns 2,500 acres of development property, including Port Gamble. Its timberlands are harvested, reforested and managed.
“In (North Kitsap), we have too many people living around the tree farm right now. There are 70,000 people around it and not too many like the tree-farming business,” Rose said. He said Pope Resources’ recent land acquisitions have been in less-populated southwest Washington and Oregon.
Rose said he doubts the conservancies will raise enough money to buy all 7,000 North Kitsap acres.
“I think there will be some successful fundraising, but I don’t think it will be of a magnitude to buy the majority of the property.”
Sandra Staples-Bortner, executive director of the Great Peninsula Conservancy, is more confident.
“It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity,” she said. “I know that saying is cliched, but that’s what it is. If this land is sold, there will be a slow attrition of these lands. We will be losing open space and losing trails. If we do a real strong community wide effort now, we can preserve this for the future.”
The acreage consists of 4,000 acres south of the Port Gamble townsite; 2,000 acres in Hansville; 650 acres in the Miller Bay watershed; and 366 acres adjacent to Heritage Park on Miller Bay Road.
Staples-Bortner said preservation of the 7,000 acres will help Port Gamble become more viable.
“I sure do," she said. "Improving and preserving the health of Port Gamble Bay will contribute to the health of Puget Sound. Preserving our North Kitsap forests will protect the watershed. By protecting these lands, we will draw people in to use these lands.”
She said the conservancies will be looking to “sustainable forestry” to raise revenue to help maintain the land.
Port Gamble S’Klallam Chairman Jeromy Sullivan said he’s most concerned about restoring and protecting the health of the bay, where Port Gamble S’Klallam operates a chum salmon hatchery and coho salmon net pens. Port Gamble S’Klallam also has been involved in the effort to restore the bay’s health.
He likes the idea of an environmental learning center being built and the educational opportunities it would bring. “We’re excited about something like that, especially so close to our home here.” Northwest Indian College has an extended campus at Port Gamble S’Klallam.
This is not the first time Pope Resources and conservancies have worked together — and on such a large chunk of land.
In May 2008, Cascade Land Conservancy acquired more than 8,000 acres of commercial forestland in the upper Green River watershed with the help of the state Department of Natural Resources for $2.2 million, using a grant from the federally funded Forest Legacy program.
In July this year, The Nature Conservancy purchased 383 acres of forested uplands within the Dabob Bay Natural Area along Hood Canal in Jefferson County. The land was transferred to the state Department of Natural Resources to be managed as part of the Dabob Bay Natural Area.
At the time of that sale, Pope Resources president and CEO David L. Nunes said his company “has committed nearly 20,000 acres to permanent conservation since 1998.”