340 Acres Might Be Conserved —

340 Acres Might Be Conserved

Erik Robinson, The Columbian, Sept 11, 2008

An ecologically rich chunk of northwest Clark County would be permanently conserved under a land swap being considered by the county, the state Department of Natural Resources and a local family.

The area encompasses 340 acres near Mud Lake, southwest of the confluence of the north and east forks of the Lewis River, and within a half-mile of a casino being proposed by the Cowlitz Indian Tribe. Much of the property is forested terrain within a canyon sloping to the lake itself.

"This one of the hidden gems of the county," said Glenn Lamb, executive director of the nonprofit land trust in Vancouver.

The area is located just northeast of the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge.

The land trust already owns 70 acres surrounding the southern end of the lake off Northwest Allen Canyon Road, which Lamb envisions as the entry point for a lakeside trail.

To make the deal happen, Clark County will have to scrape together state and local grants earmarked for land conservation. Under the deal, outlined for county commissioners on Wednesday, the county would buy 120 acres of state-owned nearby timberland and then trade it to the Morgan family for 150 acres surrounding the lake.

Rhidian Morgan, who manages the family's Ridgefield-area forestry holdings, said the lakeside property ought to be conserved as natural habitat.

"We have reforested it, but now it's not necessarily possible to harvest it," he said. "And it may not be the best use of it, given what we've learned about wetlands and watersheds."

The Morgan family then would continue to log and replant the nearby DNR parcel - rather than developing it for home sites - as guaranteed by a conservation easement permanently affixed to property records. Lamb said the appraised value of the DNR land is $2.4 million.

The DNR had been planning to get rid of its property and instead acquire forest lands in more rural areas, Lamb said.

"They don't want to own land in an urbanizing county," he said. "This is all highly developable land."

Yet, the current county land-use zoning on the DNR property suggests a relatively minor level of development in the immediate future. A total of eight home sites could be spread across the 120 acres under existing county land-use restrictions.

Conserving the lakeside area as natural habitat and maintaining the DNR land in forestry will be important as the area continues to grow in the future, Morgan said.

"They're paving over a hell of a lot of Clark County," he said.

Potential sources of money to buy the property include the county's Conservation Futures fund, the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program and the federal North American Wetlands Conservation Act.

"The county is working to get to the ability to totally fund this and make sure the partners are still on board," county Administrator Bill Barron said. "Do we have all the money in hand? No."

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