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The Friends of the Teanaway — a nonprofit group dedicated to the conservation of the Teanaway — hosted a forum Saturday at the Swauk-Teanaway Grange in an attempt to clear up any misconceptions surrounding the state’s purchase of 50,000 acres in Teanaway.

“What is coming into place is the process on how this plan will be developed,” said Chuck Adams, president of Friends of the Teanaway. “(This forum is to) learn the facts, not the rumors, about this purchase.”

The Washington State Board of Natural Resources approved the $99 million purchase of roughly 50,000 acres of Teanaway forestland on Aug. 2, marking the second largest public land purchase in state history.

An acquisition of this magnitude comes attached with questions from people who depend on the plan for their recreational and economic needs.

The Friends of the Teanaway forum featured a wide range of panelists who were actively involved in the acquisition. One of the panelists was Urban Eberhart, an Ellensburg farmer and citizen activist involved in water and irrigation issues in the county. During his presentation at the forum, Eberhart explained the history behind the land purchase and its importance in relationship to the Yakima Basin Integrated Water Resource Management Plan.

Water storage

Eberhart talked about how water in the Yakima Basin is over-allocated, and how the state’s purchase of forestland will allow water to be managed properly. He said this will increase the total water storage in the region.

“The water supply, as we all know, is over-allocated in the Yakima Basin,” Eberhart said. “If we can get the forests managed better, then the water supply will be better for us.”

He also discussed the potential ecological impacts of the state’s purchase. Eberhart said future projects are aimed at things like improving fish passage, and raising the height of Lake Cle Elum will aid in the conservation and restoration of local wildlife.

“We’re going to be working on some major water projects up here in Upper Kittitas County,” Eberhart said.

Community forest

When the state’s board of natural resources approved the purchase in Teanaway, it also authorized the land to be managed as a community forest. Commissioner of Public Lands Peter Goldmark, who is a chairman on the board and also manages the state Department of Natural Resources, explained what the distinction as Washington’s first-ever community forest meant for the land.

“This purchase was instrumental to the community and the integrated water plan,” Goldmark said. “Now we’re at the cusp of creating the first community forest.”

The community forest trust model is intended to protect working forests, while also safeguarding their natural resources. Goldmark said the key to developing a community forest is active involvement from stakeholders, including the establishment of a local advisory board.

Management advice

The advisory board, which Goldmark said will be established after the purchase is made official on Oct. 1, is intended to provide the Department of Natural Resources with advice as the department develops the land-management plan.

Since the Teanaway will be the state’s first community forest, Goldmark said he is not completely sure how the process will work, but he is aware of the potential impact it can have on the land.

“There’s a lot of steps this project will initiate along the way,” Goldmark said. “I don’t think it could be done in a better place.”

The local advisory board aspect of community forests was designed to give those with a direct stake in the land a voice on how it is managed. Kittitas County Commissioner Paul Jewell said the land purchase will benefit the county as a whole, and he was at Saturday’s forum to tell attendees how.

“Protecting that watershed for quality and quantity is very important,” Jewell said. “There’s a lot of benefits to those in Kittitas County.”

Jewell said the land purchase will support both irrigation and domestic water use, while simultaneously assisting in ecosystem restoration.

“This is an ecosystem restoration plan, just as much as it is a water plan,” Jewell said.

Advantages not lost

Jewell also said the county wouldn’t be losing any of the advantages the land provided before the purchase. This means, Jewell said, that recreational access will remain unchanged; working lands for grazing, agriculture and forestry will be maintained; and payments in lieu of taxes will be made.

Jewell said it is these compromises between ecological and economic interests that makes the state’s purchase of the Teanaway such a historic achievement.

“We took the old model and we threw it against the wall and we shattered it,” Jewell said. “It’s about the land, it’s about public safety, and it’s really about the future of this forest.”

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