Proposed logging project creates concern

News of a private project to log 100 acres of land, including 40 acres to be clear cut, on Vashon

News of a private project to log 100 acres of land, including 40 acres to be clear cut, on Vashon’s south end traveled quickly last weekend, with many islanders questioning the safety and wisdom of such a project and expressing frustration with a comment period many deemed too short.

On Monday, however a spokesman for the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), which oversees the application process, said the project is still being evaluated, that the agency has made no final decisions about it and that the comment period extends until Nov. 18 — 10 days later than many islanders had understood it to be.

“The decision of whether there will be logging there remains to be seen, and what it will look like remains to be seen,” said Bob Rederling, a DNR public information officer. “We are still reviewing with more review to come.”

The proposed project is on 192 acres of land at Vashon’s south end, to the east of the Spring Beach neighborhood. Maps of the project show that the property extends from the Vashon Highway down to Quartermaster Harbor in one area and nearly to the shoreline in others. The geotechnical report for the project — which was required by law because of some concerns at the site, including a history of landslide there — shows that logging would occur in three sections. In two units of 30 acres each in the nearly level upland area, the work would thin about half the trees, leaving 70 to 100 trees per acre. The third unit, 40 acres, is on the southeast portion of the property, is currently slated to be a clear cut and is on steeper terrain. A temporary logging road is also planned. The area to be logged is 100 acres — the size of the school district complex, including all three schools, the playground, sports fields and woods. From it, 1,525 MBF (thousand board feet) are slated to be removed, or roughly, according to Dave Warren of Island Forest Stewards, 300 logging trucks’ worth of trees.

The land borders Vashon Park District’s Lost Lake, described by the district as a 32-acre marine, freshwater and terrestrial conservancy overlooking Quartermaster Harbor. The proposed logging area is also close to King County’s Big Beach Natural Area. While there was speculation on social media that the logging project might be a precursor to some other kind of development, the land is forest land and currently cannot be developed. The owner of the property is Fukuen Eric Chen of Bellevue. Reached on Monday, he said he is adhering to the required process, noting he was working with the state and a forester who knows more about the process than he does.

“Whatever we can do, it all follows recommendations,” he said.

He added that he owns nearly 200 acres and plans to log about half of that, with only a small portion to be clear cut and no trees removed from near Lost Lake.

Eventually he may try to develop the land, he said, but for now, he has no plans to do so and simply wants to log it.

His hopes to do so, however, have raised red flags for many islanders, including neighbors who received notices of the project over the weekend and learned of it for the first time.

Those in the conservation field have also expressed concern. Greg Rabourn, who lives on the island and works for King County in its Water and Land Resources Division, said his email inbox was full of concerns about the project on Monday morning. He, too, has concerns, he said, noting that there are several sensitive areas on the property, including erosion hazards, a water recharge area and important wetlands. His largest concerns are about potential logging impacts to nearby bogs, which are a rare natural feature. Like Whispering Firs bog not far from Vashon town, Lost Lake is considered a sphagnum bog, and while Rabourn has not walked the Chen property, he said the aerial views of it indicate that there may be additional bogs there.

“I am in the restoration world, and when you are proposing to clear cut on steep slopes above wetlands, that definitely warrants scrutiny and being careful,” he said

Additionally, he noted that the county has been purchasing shoreline property in that area for conservation and restoration of habitat. Those purchases include two parcels immediately to the north of Lost Lake, where shore armoring and cabins will be removed, and two parcels at the south end of the Chen property, where the county is also doing preservation work. Logging is proposed adjacent to those two southern parcels, he added, with just a 200-foot setback indicated.

While the land to be logged is not on the shoreline, Chen Creek runs right through the property, creating an additional concern.

“Impacts to the creek definitely impact Puget Sound,” he added.

At the Vashon Maury Island Land Trust, Executive Director Tom Dean was out of town and unable to comment, but Julie Grunwald, the organization’s manager, expressed thoughts similar to Rabourn’s. She noted that the Land Trust had reached out repeatedly to Chen, hoping to buy the property. He has declined to do so.

“We are concerned about potential negative impacts to Lost Lake and other critical wetlands around the property. There are also a lot of signs of active slides in the area,” she said.

She noted that the property has a flat upper area, and the areas below are it are potentially in jeopardy.

“We are worried about the neighbors and roads below and believe the comment period should be extended,” she said.

At the DNR, Redling said that the Nov. 8 deadline mentioned in one document, and which upset many people, was only the deadline for one part of the process, the Determination of Nonsignificance. The overall comment deadline is 10 days after that.

“People can make comments up until Nov. 18. They can be about the site itself, the wisdom of logging there or the impacts of logging there,” he said.

The sooner comments are made, the better, he added.

Review of the project is ongoing, he said, and will include an upcoming meeting or two at the site, with state officials, the logging company and geologists.

“The area is glacial fill, and it does have the potential to cause harm to public resources or public safety, and the whole review process is to mitigate those risks,” he said.

State officials could choose to exclude part of the site from being harvested, change the amount of wood being removed or relocate the logging road, for example. He added that by law the state must respond to the logging application with 30 days, or the application would simply become valid. This law is setting the Nov. 18 deadline, but he said the state could then issue a delay for further evaluation of the project.

Faced with the prospect of a clear cut on a steep slope — with the tragedy of Oso still in people’s minds — some islanders have questioned why an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) was not required. Redling said the SEPA (State Environmental Policy Act) process is considered sufficient for a project of this scope. Chen intends to replant and reforest the land, Redling said, and part of the reason a more in-depth EIS was not required was that he is not changing the use of the land.

Redling encouraged people who are concerned to comment.

“It’s a steep area, close to houses. We totally understand people want to know what the heck is going on out there,” he said.

The island’s Derek Churchill has questions of his own about the project. Churchill, who has a doctorate in forest ecology and forest management, is a forestry consultant and does forest research and teaches forestry at the University of Washington. Like others, he is concerned about some of the proposal.

“It is not a place I would propose to do that harvest — or any harvest,” he said. “I think there is significant risk to public resources.”

Some of his concerns center on the geotechnical study, which he noted included several uncertainties the that were interpreted to be low risk.

“You could interpret (the information) differently and not assume low risk,” he added.

If nothing else, he said, the DNR has the responsibility, if they truly to believe the is low risk, specifically regarding landslides, why they believe the project is safe.

He encouraged people to weigh in.

“We live in a world in which public comments do influence decisions, especially regarding landslides,” he said.

For more information about this project, see