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Timber owner finds home for family land

It started when a big windstorm in 2007 and another in 2008 knocked down enough timber on Cal Thomas's 161 acres between Port Angeles and Sequim to fill up 78 log trucks.

Concerned that disease might be making trees more vulnerable, Thomas hired consulting forester Kenneth D. Gilbertson to help him.

It wasn't long before Thomas not only felt more comfortable about the health of his timber, but he'd found a permanent home for the land his late father had purchased in 1952.

Thomas said he told Gilbertson he was looking for a way to be sure the land he'd inherited would be cared for in a way that would honor the way his father felt about the land. The forester suggested talking with representatives of North Olympic Land Trust.

Those conversations led not only to the recently signed legal agreement with the Land Trust to maintain the land as a working forest, but also to Thomas deciding to update his will so the nonprofit organization would become the land's owner.

"I've found a home for my dad's land," Thomas said. "And I also like the idea that the Land Trust could make some money from the timber."

The agreement became official June 18. Thomas will continue to own the land but the agreement protecting it will remain in effect regardless of who owns it in the future.

Michele d'Hemecourt, Land Trust Conservation director, said the land is a rarity because of its size and the qualities Thomas and his late father have protected since acquiring it in 1952.

"Cal honestly loves that land and now those qualities will be protected forever," she said.

She likes the way the Forest Management Plan spells out the long-term goal of managing for mature and old-growth stands of high quality conifer and hardwood trees. Biodiversity and forest health will be encouraged. She said timber can be managed for commercial harvesting or carbon credits.

"It's outstanding working forest land, but it is also a refuge for wildlife," she said.

The property, nearly six miles up Blue Mountain Road, is less than a mile from Olympic National Forest, Olympic National Park and Sweeneys' Serenity Farm, which also is protected under a permanent Land Trust agreement. It contains forested wetlands and approximately 2,000 feet of a tributary to McDonald Creek, which provides habitat for salmon, steelhead and bull trout. Also protected are 3,600 feet of three intermittent streams, d'Hemecourt said.

The consulting forester's management plan describes wildlife habitat as well as timber values of the property. Gilbertson's report states. "The mature timber stands, immature timber stands and recently thinned timber stands provide very high quality wildlife habitat."

Gilbertson said they hope stream habitat restoration on Blue Mountain will encourage the American beaver to recolonize in the area.

Larger mammal wildlife species known to use the site periodically include black-tail deer and Roosevelt elk, according to the report.

Other purposes of the agreement, officially known as a conservation easement, include protecting scenic views from public and private lands and water quality of McDonald Creek.

For about seven years, Thomas has lived several miles down Blue Mountain Road from his property. After retiring from West Seattle where he worked in sheet metal fabrication, he said he wanted to live where he could have easy access to the property. He said he has no plans to move to there but reserved the right for a cabin of up to 600 square feet.

The Thomas conservation easement brings the total acres the Land Trust has protected in 2010 to 179.5, bringing the total protected in the organization's 20-year history to 2,238 acres.

In addition to working forests, the Land Trust protects such special qualities of land as habitat for salmon and other wildlife, farming, clean water and air, scenic vistas, open space and cultural heritage. The Land Trust protects hundreds of acres of land in the Sequim-Dungeness area.

More information is available from nolt.org and the Land Trust office, 417-1815. The organization also offers monthly one-hour overviews of its services on the fourth Tuesday of each month from 5:30-6:30 p.m. at its office, 104 N. Laurel St., Suite 104, in Port Angeles. Phone reservations are recommended.













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