Land Trust gets county grant for forest

A nonprofit’s plans to protect a tract of rare forested land got a $650,000 boost from the county.

A nonprofit group’s plans to protect a 300-acre tract of rare forested land in Central Whidbey got a $650,000 boost from the county this week.

The Island County commissioners voted 2-1 Tuesday to award the Whidbey Camano Land Trust with Conservation Futures grant funds for the ambitious project.

Katie White, land protection specialist, explained that the proposed Lagoon Point Community Forest consists of four properties, including 80 acres that the Land Trust has already protected.

In all, the project will cost about $4.3 million, with the county money funding about 15% of the total. The rest of the funding will come from state and federal grants and possibly private donations. White said the Land Trust has willing sellers and hopes to complete the acquisition by early 2024.

White and Ryan Elting, incoming executive director, emphasized the importance of preserving natural lands that are both large and contiguous.

The land is entirely forested with a mix of forest types and high-quality wetlands.

“The area serves as a vital corridor that supports a diversity of species including migratory birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians, some of which are protected under the state wildlife action plan and are sensitive to habitat quality, indicating the significance of the site,” White said.

White also discussed how keeping the land undeveloped will protect the aquifer, promote climate resiliency, prevent erosion and sequester carbon.

Unprotected, the properties will be developed with up to 23 10-acre high-end homes sites, she added.

The public will have access to a network of trails through much of the property. Commissioner Janet St. Clair said it was a priority for her that protected properties have public access.

“I believe that when people have access to these things they learn to protect what they love,” she said.

Likewise, Commissioner Melanie Bacon expressed strong support for the project.

“I also wanted to express the fact that it is to protect large parcels like this is one of the reasons I ran for county commissioner,” she said.

Commissioner Jill Johnson, however, said she was confused by parts of the presentation which she felt did not match the paperwork presented to the board. She also questioned the price the Land Trust would be paying for the land.

In response to her questions, Elting explained that a Bay Area developer had offered $3.25 million to the owner of a 155-acre parcel. The Land Trust’s appraisal, however, set the fair market value at $3.49 million; he explained that the Land Trust always pays fair market value.

Yet Johnson argued that the market doesn’t support the price since it’s beyond what the developer offered.

In the end, the majority of the board agreed to award the Land Trust $650,000 for the Lagoon Point Community Forest. The commissioners also unanimously approved a $100,000 request from the county parks department for an addition to English Boom Park on Camano Island.

The Conservation Futures program is funded by a small property levy and aimed at protecting open space, wetlands, wildlife habitat, timber land and agricultural lands.