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Trillium Corp. cut opens old wound

"Photo: Randy Bartelt looks over a map of Trillium Corporation's latest tree harvest area near Freeland. The 40-acres of trees are to be clearcut during the next few weeks.Matt Johnson / staff photoWhat Trillium plans to cutThe Trillium Corporation will harvest 39.7 acres of trees during the next few weeks on land it owns between Mutiny Bay and Smuggler's Cove roads.The company will harvest primarily mature red alder, but will also remove cherry, big leaf maple, Douglas fir, Western hemlock, and Western red cedar trees. The company's logging contractor, Pacific Logging, Inc., will do the work under a Class III forestry permit and will leave approximately five trees per acre standing in clumps.The trees will be milled and used to make furniture, building components, and other wood projects. Some of the smaller trees will be sold as wood pulp to paper mills.Trillium owns more than 2,000 acres of forest land on South Whidbey. It also owns land in Skagit, Whatcom, Snohomish, Jefferson, King, and Pierce counties. It owns additional land in Alaska, as well as several hundred thousand acres of forest land in South America.When Trillium Corporation started cutting 740 acres of forest land near Freeland in 1988, Whidbey Island environmentalists and some area property owners were caught off guard.What followed was probably the most visible backlash against the logging industry South Whidbey had ever seen. Scores of protesters demonstrated repeatedly as the company felled tree after tree. In the end, nearly two full sections of land lay bare where just weeks earlier there had been a mature forest.The cut was a public relations disaster for the company on South Whidbey.They had a really bad name when they came through, said Beverly Lane, one of the Freeland residents whose land borders the Trillium clearcut.Last week, Trillium started rebuilding logging roads in the clearcut land to gain access to 39 of 120 remaining acres of mature timber. The company will clearcut that acreage sometime during the next month -- an action that brought back a bad taste in the mouths of some property owners and environmentalists.But this time around, Trillium is being more up-front about what it is doing. The company's forester, Randy Bartelt, has spent a good portion of the past month contacting those same property owners and environmentalists, and said he is doing everything he can to follow all current logging regulations and protect neighboring property.Bartelt and his employer are doing this not just out of courtesy. Being a good neighbor and following the rules to the letter is the way to do business these days in the timber industry. It cuts down on acrimony and disputes over property lines and environmental concerns and, in the long run, saves the company time and money.The industry has changed a lot in the past 10 years, Bartelt said Monday as he walked some newly-graded logging roads on Trillium's Freeland property.For this new cut, Trillium is setting aside several acres of trees bordering neighboring properties. This is to prevent trees on Trillium's property from blowing down onto nearby land, limiting liability and complaints. Buffers measuring 100 feet in depth or more also screen neighbors from the cut, which many consider ugly.Aesthetics are important, Bartelt said.The land, which was clearcut in 1988, looks different these days. Ten-foot-high Douglas fir trees stand thick and green where the ground was once bare. A portion of the land, once owned by Georgia-Pacific, boasts 30-foot-tall trees, planted more than two decades ago.This week, bulldozers and dump trucks rolled onto the property to re-grade and gravel old logging roads, providing better access to the property. And, when the new cut is finished, Bartelt said, that land will be replanted with 435 Douglas fir seedlings per acre.Trillium plans to hold onto the land and will log it again someday. That is how the timber business works, Bartelt said. The company's upcoming harvest is part of that business, with profits going toward the continued maintenance of the tree farm.We're definitely going to make money off this, Bartelt said.Neighbors like Trillium's attitudeTrillium's new approach to those concerned about tree harvesting has won them some points with South Whidbey residents who are opposed to clear cutting. Earl Lane, who owns property adjoining the proposed clear cut, makes no bones about criticizing the practice of clearcutting.Me, personally, I don't like to see clear cuts.However, Lane said he was pleased to find that Bartelt was willing to give his property an adequate buffer, and to make himself available at any time during the harvest to answers questions and concerns.He didn't close the door, Lane said.Bill Feely is one Trillium neighbor who planned for the future when the company came through with its first clearcut. Twelve years ago -- shortly after the chainsaws started buzzing on the Trillium land -- he purchased five acres of forest land to put between his five-acre homestead and Trillium's land. He, too, negotiated a buffer zone with Bartelt, and said he was pleased with Trillium's concession.I like the fact that he was right up front about it, he said of Bartelt's help.Make no mistake: Feely is not a fan of clearcuts. During the 1988 cut, Feely discovered just how severely forest wildlife was affected by the buzzing chainsaws and falling trees. Deer, coyotes, raccoons, rodents, and birds took refuge in Feely's small forest as they tried to find permanent new homes.The last clear cut had me overrun with wildlife, he said.When he was still commuting to work on the mainland, Feely said he was affronted every day by what he sees as the exploitation of South Whidbey's forests.I used to hate seeing log trucks on ferries when I was commuting, he said.Environmentalists take Trillium tourBartelt even gave a guided tour of the impending clear cut to Whidbey Environmental Action Network activists Steve Erickson and Marianne Edain. The pair were leaders in protests and blockades of Trillium's 1988 clearcut.Edain said Monday she wanted to make certain that there were no wetlands in the proposed clearcut area. There were not, a fact she said surprised her. She claimed Trillium violated wetland buffers in its big clearcut 12 years ago. Like the landowners neighboring the acreage, Edain said she was pleased to find that Bartelt and Trillium were willing to provide the information she needed to satisfy her curiosity.However, Edain said, the forester did not offer any information about how Trillium might lessen the impact of the cut on the wildlife currently living in the trees. Deer, small mammals, birds, and protected pileated woodpeckers will be displaced when the cutting starts.He didn't seem concerned about preserving the wildlife habitat, Edain said.With 780 acres of mature trees gone after the cut, Edain said Trillium -- in spite of its recent concern for its human neighbors -- may have permanently destroyed an entire ecosystem. This new cut might well be the final blow.How much is it reasonable to take before it is too much? Edain asked.Edain and Lane did note that the last cut appeared to increase the amount of rain runoff onto adjoining properties. They will monitor runoff amounts associated with the new Trillium cut.Meanwhile, Trillium will have to wait to see how the community as a whole reacts to its latest clearcutting effort."

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