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Logging threatens in valley watershed

Two brothers' plan to log and chemically treat more than 40 acres of alder forest in the Maxwelton Valley is meeting with resistance, but not as much as South Whidbey's environmentalist community is known for.

Speaking about the project last week, Nancy Josephson, the assistant regional manager for the Northwest regional office of the state Department of Natural Resources, said the DNR has signed off on clearcutting and the aerial application of herbicides on Coles Road acreage owned by South Whidbey residents Robert and Gary Kohlwes.

Specifically, according to project operator John Gold, 26 acres of mature alder forest will be clearcut, while another 19 will be "thinned." Herbicides -- including the brands Accord, Oust, Garlon and Liberate -- will be sprayed on the land after the logging to kill off plant life that could compete with seedlings to be planted afterwards.

Outcry over both the logging and the spraying has come from a number of corners during the past two months, some reaching the DNR in the form of formal comments, while others went to Gold. Those protesting the project have objected to the use of herbicides and have questioned the effects of logging and spraying on the land, which is in the headwaters of two tributaries of Maxwelton Creek.

One of the most strident reactions to the project came from Maxwelton Valley farmer Jim Cowperthwaite. Located downhill and potentially downwind from the DNR-approved logging and spraying project, Cowperthwaite's naturally-grown certified produce farm is almost entirely chemical free.

He said he can't believe the herbicides -- which will be sprayed from a helicopter -- will not drift onto his property. That, he said, could undermine confidence among his more than 200 regular produce customers.

"That's insane," he said of the aerial spraying.

But more moderate in their tones this week were representatives of the Maxwelton Salmon Adventure and the Whidbey Environmental Action Network. John Hastings, who is co-president of the salmon adventure, said the Kohwles' logging project worries him because sediment and chemical runoff from the land would interfere with his organization's goal of bringing a salmon migration back to Maxwelton Creek.

Having taken a foot tour of the alder forest last month, Hastings said he is most disappointed in Island County for what he sees as a failure to protect an important watershed upon which island residents depend for drinking water.

"I'm struck by the fact that our county doesn't take a position on logging in a riparian area," he said.

Logging permits are handled by the DNR. The county scrutinizes them only when a conversion to another land use -- such as housing -- is part of the permit.

However, in speaking about the logging project this week, Hastings said he wants to maintain a working relationship with the Kohwles'.

Marianne Edain, one of the co-founders of WEAN, had the same attitude. She reserved her anger for the DNR.

"At this point, the DNR does not protect forested wetlands at all," she said. "Certainly, aerial herbicide spraying should be banned completely."

Neither Hastings nor Edain would comment on why they wish to maintain a working relationship with the Kohwles', and neither indicated any actions their organizations might take to try to block the logging project.

Previously, WEAN has taken a hard line with logging projects it has objected to, often using the courts to challenge them. WEAN members have also used civil disobedience and protests to stop logging, as they did in the 1980s when the Trillium Corporation clear cut more than 700 acres in Freeland.

Some of the threat those objecting to the project see may disappear. Commenting briefly on the aerial spraying component, Robert Kohwles said he and his brother may reconsider how they control plant growth after the logging.

"In the final analysis, we might not do that," he said of the aerial spraying.

Gold, the Kohwles' operator -- or project manager -- said he believes the work is not exactly what opponents think. He said the streams and wetlands on the property will be protected, with no logging or spraying taking place within 100 feet of the watery areas. He also said an old logging road that passes through one of the streams will be repaired to promote better water flow.

Some tree cutting may take place within the 100-foot buffer zones, but he said that will be done to promote the growth of preferred tree species near the streams and wetlands.

As for the herbicide spraying, he said he and the Kohwles' chose to use a helicopter because aerial application is more effective and less expensive than cutting vegetation or hand spraying herbicides.

Gold said his clients are interested in doing the logging this summer because the alder on the Coles Road acreage is at harvest age and will bring a good price in a market which has been favoring alder for some time.

He said the logging will begin "later this summer."

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