Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) about Squak Mountain and potential logging and/or development on the mountain. Status as of March 1, 2013
Where is Squak Mountain? Squak Mountain is south of the original site of Issaquah. The town contains significant residential neighborhoods on the mountain’s north face up to about 1000 feet in elevation on the 2000 foot mountain. The east side of the mountain is very steep with development only at the north and south ends. The west side is developed at the north and south end with most of the middle area being part of the county owned Cougar-Squak Corridor. The southwest side of the mountain has the residential development of High Valley climbing up to the 1200 foot level of the mountain. Squak Mtn is home to 1550 acre Squak Mtn State Park and over 500 acres of city and county open space. There is a well developed system of hiking trails with equestrian trails on the south slope to the east of High Valley.
Why is this area important? Park and open space owned by the state, county and city of Issaquah on Squak Mountain total around 2000 acres. The extremely steep slopes on the east side of the mountain complicate connections to Tiger Mountain. But on the west, the Cougar-Squak corridor connects Squak with the 3000 acre Cougar Mountain Regional Wildland Park. State Route 900 runs between the mountains and complicate travel for both humans and wildlife. There are about 20 parking spaces on the Cougar side of SR900 and 2 on the Squak side making access for hikers to the two mountains difficult at best. The land recently purchased for logging is presently part of the wildlife corridor and could include great trails and a much needed trailhead.
Where is this property that has had all the media attention? The property is on the west side of Squak extending from SR900 to over 1000 feet of elevation. The property shares about 3500 feet of boundary with permanently protected county open space. The property contains much of the North Fork of May Creek, a major headwaters to this salmon spawning creek that enters Lake Washington at Kennydale. Yes, salmon have been seen spawning in this creek.
Tell me more about the actual property. The property is approximately 216 acres and consists of 6 parcels. Five of the parcels totaling about 115 acres were owned by the Issaquah Highlands Camping Club. The more easterly property is a little over 100 acres and was owned by Plum Creek, a Burlington Northern railroad spinoff company. Around 2003 all 6 parcels were purchased by Issaquah Highlands LLC and they pursued approval of a 46 lot plat called Serenity Estates. The development company got behind in their payments and was foreclosed on. Erickson Logging of Eatonville purchased the land in December of 2012 from the loan holders. (There appears to be no connection between Issaquah Highlands LLC and the developers of the Issaquah Highlands in the city of Issaquah.)
What is the actual land and forest like? The camping club property contains a lodge building that the camping club used for community events and also rented to outside groups. The lodge, some other outbuildings and a parking area adjoin SR900. At one point there were over a hundred campsites on the property and much of the road system still exists, but is unused. Some areas have been selectively logged, some were heavily logged 20 years ago and there are places that contain very old second growth forest. The 100 acres on top shows no evidence of logging for nearly a century. The forest is a mix of evergreen species and deciduous species, with the steeper and drier areas tending toward evergreen and the wetter areas tending toward deciduous.
Why is there so much concern about logging the site? There are a number of concerns about the industrial nature of logging that concern local residents. The major issues are the impacts of increased storm flows and associated silt flowing into May Creek and on to adjoining properties due to the removal of erosion-controlling trees and the addition of roads which also accelerate water flow downhill. Flooding issues with May Creek have only worsened over the last 50 or more years leaving many land owners unable to use their land for months at a time. Impacts to salmon are a continuing concern as well. Wildlife species such as cougars, bobcat, pileated woodpeckers, and the rare Coastal Tailed Frog are verified to be present. From a regional perspective this is one of the last remaining urban forests. It is 200 acres of forest in our backyard. The potential for a trailhead on the property combined with trails connecting to the existing trail system is advantageous to the residents of the urban areas of the Puget Sound Basin.
What are the options for logging and development of the property? There are two options available to the logging company that purchased the property in December of 2012. The first is to pursue a Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) forest practices permit to log the site and the second is to pursue the presently unapproved proposed plat of Serenity Estates (L07P0007) which would allow for residential development and logging. The proposed plat still requires much work to get approval and is considered by many to be not economically viable. The logger delayed applying for a DNR permit as he tried to market the property for development, but has now chosen to log the site with a state DNR permit that will put a six year moratorium on development on the property and cause the proposed plat application to expire.
What are some of the implications of a state DNR permit to allow logging? The present owner of the property is a logging company much experienced with state forest practices regulations. Before the property purchase was closed in December, the proposed boundaries for logging were marked with “Timber Harvest Boundary” ribbons apparently complying with DNR standards. The ribbons were primarily along property boundaries with no required setback except near the North Fork of May Creek. State DNR requirements related to creeks, wetlands, steep slopes and other critical areas are generally less restrictive than King County’s. Special circumstances exist with this proposed logging. May Creek flooding is not just a continuing problem, but a worsening problem for numerous downstream property owners. The property adjoins King County open space for three fourths of a mile and is one of the closest heavily forested parcels to urban Puget Sound residents. The permit is for logging on 195 of the 216 acres with up to 95% of the volume being cut.
What can we do to prevent logging and see this property acquired for public use and protection? The forest practices application for logging this site has been applied for and can be downloaded from link on homepage there is a comment period until March 11, though it may be extended. Comments should reflect specific concerns about the logging impacts to May Creek, adjoining residents and King County open space. Both King County Executive Dow Constantine, and King County Councilman, Reagan Dunn have advocated for King County acquisition of this property. Dow Constantine: “King County hopes to work with Mr. Erickson to conserve his land and bring it into public ownership in the next few years.” Reagan Dunn: “To have it purchased by King County would underscore the importance the county has placed on open space and protecting important scenic landscapes.” Thanking them and letting them know your concerns about logging the site should be communicated to them.
To comment to the Washington State Department of Natural Resources email Bruce McDonald at Bruce.McDonald@dnr.wa.gov about proposed forest practices application: Issaquah Highlands, 2415960 by Erickson Logging.
To thank our county leaders for pursuing acquisition and sharing your concerns please email and call King County Councilman Reagan Dunn at Reagan.Dunn@kingcounty.gov at 206-296-1009 and King County Executive Dow Constantine at Dow.Constantine@kingcounty.gov at 206-296-4040.