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Friday, September 22, 2023
Sept. 22, 2023

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Grassroots effort stops planned logging along Hantwick Trail in Clark County

By , Columbian staff writer
11 Photos
A self-described "environmentalist hippie," Linda Lorenz has always followed local conservation efforts, but she has never been as involved as she was through the Hantwick Inter-Fund Transfer and Reconveyance Project.
A self-described "environmentalist hippie," Linda Lorenz has always followed local conservation efforts, but she has never been as involved as she was through the Hantwick Inter-Fund Transfer and Reconveyance Project. (Lauren Ellenbecker/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

In January, the state approved a land transfer of roughly 80 acres southwest of Yacolt to Clark County, marking the end of a yearslong effort to preserve the dense woods from proposed logging.

But the work from hundreds of advocates who made the transfer possible otherwise went unnoticed, left in the tangle of bureaucratic ribbons tying up the success.

And it all started with one voice.

“There were so many red flags for me,” Linda Lorenz of Vancouver said as she walked along Hantwick Trail recently, stopping to look at the collection of trees that were initially proposed to be clear cut. “I just said to myself, ‘This can’t happen.’ So, I sent up the alarms, you know? I just started calling people.”

The impetus for her rallying cry was sparked on a Thursday morning in May 2018 — memorable because she rarely visited her 18-acre property by the East Fork of the Lewis River during that time of the week.

Lorenz was rummaging through blackberry bushes when employees from the state Department of Natural Resources pulled up in a big red truck. Their intent was to assess the steep hillside above Hantwick Trail between Moulton and Lucia Falls regional parks for the “Michigan Trotter” timber project. Her property provided a perfect vantage point for one of the many proposed parcels.

The interaction, though friendly and transparent, scared Lorenz. She feared the natural area would be transformed into a duller version of itself.

In her mind, there would no longer be abundant shades of green blending with sunbeams, nor would the wild menagerie of critters bouncing between gnarled branches and leafy shelters. People riding the Chelatchie Prairie Railroad along the steep embankment wouldn’t have to squint to search for Sasquatch — its hairy body wouldn’t have anything to hide behind.

The way the land existed offered a sense of awe away from the modern world.

“It would have been devastating,” Lorenz said.

Getting a gang together

Answering a call to action, hundreds mobilized to oppose the logging.

They were fly fishers and runners, folks with legal expertise or simply concerned citizens. Multiple groups backed the advocates, including Vancouver Audubon Society, Friends of Clark County and the Sierra Club. Lorenz said those who flocked to help her illustrated how beloved the forested trail was to locals.

During the early stages of the grassroots effort, volunteers sat at the Hantwick Trailhead to gather signatures for their petition opposing the project. Smaller groups drove to Olympia to attend Department of Natural Resources meetings at 9 a.m., providing remarks about their connection to the trail and support for the nature surrounding it.

Among the collective, volunteer Virginia Nugent of Vancouver petitioned, testified at public hearings and wrote to state officials to help Lorenz save the “green cathedral.” At one point, Nugent was posted at Esther Short Park — armed with her signature sheets and a pen — wearing an evergreen-shaped sandwich board.

“It’s thrilling for me, an urbanite, to see such a thing,” she said, recollecting summer days slipping under the forest’s green cloak. Here, Nugent said, she learned about nature’s complexities, whether it was a lesson about pileated woodpeckers or trees’ communicating through a noisy network of mycelium.

For months, Lorenz privately spoke to Hilary Franz, commissioner of public lands, and pitched her spiel from an array of flashcards to Gov. Jay Inslee. The plea manifested into different angles as a matter of seeing what would stick: sparing eagle nesting sites, keeping the ADA-accessible trail clear from landslides and maintaining outdoor tourism.

“I must have heard ‘no’ a hundred times,” Lorenz said.

Kenny Ocker, state Department of Natural Resources communications manager, said the main impediment for preserving the 80 acres was a matter of finding a suitable replacement with equal logging value. As required by state law, portions of logging revenue are invested into the Common School Trust, a fund that contributes to K-12 school construction within Washington.

Beyond conversations with officials, Lorenz submitted multiple requests under the Freedom of Information Act to stay updated on what was discussed regarding the land.

At the same time, other advocates were conducting their own research.

Richard Dyrland, a retired hydrologist and president of Friends of the East Fork, surveyed the proposed site with Jim Byrne, a retired fish biologist and a local Trout Unlimited member. They were concerned the steep bank presented risks for potential erosion and sluffing, which would be exacerbated by logging activity.

What began as a nature walk energized by mutual worries resulted in a multiple-page report containing descriptions, charts and maps outlining the geological hazards associated with the site, as prepared by Friends of the East Fork. There was a water-quality issue for the East Fork, Byrne said, and would threaten its gene bank for the wild salmon and steelhead that passed through the free-flowing river.

Despite having data and personal testimonies, the negotiation process wasn’t easygoing. At times it was disheartening, Lorenz said, and relenting would be an easy route to take. But her persistence didn’t dissolve nor did the grassroots band.

“The passion that people felt was very contagious,” she said.

Then things began to turn around once Clark County officials joined the conversation.

The final push

Clark County Councilor Gary Medvigy and former Councilor Temple Lentz tagged this as a perfect example of how a collaborative effort between the public and elected officials can spur change.

“Citizen alert to the council on the issue started the process for me,” Medvigy said, mentioning it was mixed in with a number of environmental projects being discussed at the time.

They admitted the council wasn’t fully aware of the potential loss between Lucia and Moulton Falls until Lorenz provided an outline of the situation. The county and the state aren’t as communicative as the public might assume, and the local body’s capacity to dive into all county issues tends to be a mile wide and an inch deep.

“How do you get things done in a government situation? It was a learning experience for all of us,” Lentz continued. “Unless you are employed by (a certain agency) or are somehow affected, you wouldn’t know.”

Because Lorenz and her troop did the background grunt work, jumping on board was an easy decision.

Once county representatives expressed an interest in reconveying the land surrounding Hantwick Trail to Clark County as a parkland, things began to fall into place. The Hantwick Inter-Fund Transfer and Reconveyance Project, officially initiated in December 2019, was going to happen.

“I feel so elated with this. I just might want to take a little bit of time and enjoy it,” Lorenz said, addressing current environmental efforts. “The fight is disheartening at times. It’s not all joy — that’s for sure.”

Grassroots still facing bumps

There’s no money to make in lobbying against development, Byrne joked.

“That was a success story,” he said. “But it is very difficult to grassroots lobby in Clark County.”

Grassroots movements typically root from a ragtag group of citizens operating on only “the motives of their heart” who face the task of challenging development boards full of experts who have pre-set goals. Further, the mission is carried out in advocates’ own time and often reduced to a three-minute testimony before a dais.

Activism — no matter how persistent, heartfelt and well-intentioned — doesn’t always result in triumphs, Byrne said referencing his work in challenging recent updates to Clark County’s critical habitats ordinance.

But that doesn’t mean advocacy isn’t worthwhile, and it doesn’t have to be done alone.

It all starts with a conversation.

“There is power in many voices,” Lorenz said, smiling as she looked at the forested hillside. “I couldn’t have done any of this without them.”

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This story was made possible by Community Funded Journalism, a project from The Columbian and the Local Media Foundation. Top donors include the Ed and Dollie Lynch Fund, Patricia, David and Jacob Nierenberg, Connie and Lee Kearney, Steve and Jan Oliva, The Cowlitz Tribal Foundation and the Mason E. Nolan Charitable Fund. The Columbian controls all content. For more information, visit columbian.com/cfj.