The Whidbey Camano Land Trust is shooting the works to gather as much public comment as possible about the future use of its latest acquisition, the 654-acre Trillium Community Forest north of Freeland.
One of the hottest topics so far has been whether to permit limited hunting in the area like that allowed at Putney Woods, another South Whidbey land trust property.
“Hunting has been on the table since the beginning,” Elizabeth Guss, land trust director of outreach and development, said Monday. “But it’s a very emotional issue.”
Steve Marx, Island County assistant public works director and manager of parks, said limited hunting is permitted at the land trust’s Putney Woods each fall, but is prohibited in its other large South End property, Saratoga Woods.
He said hunting in Putney Woods must fall within state Department of Fish and Wildlife restrictions as to seasons, weapons and prey, the same as required on the few other county properties, and on private property, where hunting is allowed.
Generally, shotgun hunting is restricted to two weeks in early fall, followed by four days in late November. Bow hunting is generally permitted between late September and late December, Marx said.
He said most hunters are after deer, and in a few cases water fowl.
“The only other prey might be rabbits and coyotes, but I never hear of anyone hunting those,” said Marx, himself a hunter.
He said that the Trillium property has been hunted historically, and that “99 percent of the hunters are after deer.”
Marx said that speaking as a hunter, he supports continued use of the area for that purpose.
Noting that between 250 and 300 deer are killed by vehicles each year on county roads and must be disposed of by county crews, he said limited deer hunting makes sense.
“I’m an advocate for good, responsible hunting,” he said. “It’s good management for wildlife.”
“With Trillium’s 600 acres, I think hunting could be easily accommodated safely,” he said.
Speaking for the county’s position on the use of the Trillium forest, he added:
“We want to try to find a balance to provide for all users. The county will continue to work with the land trust to find the right combination so everyone can be a user of the park. We’re trying to make it as safe and user-friendly as possible.”
Guss said that while accommodating hunters has always been on the land trust’s list of potential Trillium uses, the issue is far from settled and won’t be until more community input is gathered.
“It’s a process,” she said.
Hunting is on a list of 26 potential priorities the land trust has drawn up for evaluation by future users of the Trillium forest.
Guss said the list is an attempt to try to balance recreation with wildlife habitat preservation. It solicits community priorities regarding such things as horses, bicycles, trails, the holding of large organized events, the number of human-made structures such as picnic areas and toilets and active forest management to achieve old-growth conditions.
One regulation was decided at the outset, Guss said: no motorized vehicles. Signs already have been posted alerting the public to the rule.
Guss said earlier evidence of all-terrain-vehicle activity on the property appears to have lessened.
“I guess people have become more respectful of the area,” she said.
The original Trillium Woods property was acquired by the land trust late last year with $4 million in donations from 1,500 donors and a $300,000 bridge loan from a Seattle nonprofit foundation.
The original 750-acre property is west of Highway 525 about a mile north of Mutiny Bay Road. The woodland, adjacent to South Whidbey State Park, is laced with more than 10 miles of trails and has been a popular hiking and horseback-riding area.
Known most recently as Estates at Whidbey, the property fell into foreclosure after its owner, who subdivided the property to contain more than 120 houses, ran into financial trouble with the project barely under way.
The Freeland Water and Sewer District recently bought 80 acres to use for its proposed sewer system.
The property has had a colorful 30-year history.
In 1988, it was the site of controversy when Trillium Corporation of Bellingham, owners at the time, clearcut the area.
Protesters gathered at the property and blocked an entrance in a failed attempt to stop the logging. The protests marked the beginning of the local watchdog group Whidbey Environmental Action Network.
Guss said the land trust has conducted several focus groups so far this year, and earlier this month held a public meeting attended by more than 50 people representing a range of potential users of the property.
She said the land trust continues to solicit opinions from visitors to its website, and plans to conduct another public meeting later this summer. She said the goal is to develop a management plan and a conservation easement to present to the county by the end of the year.
Once an easement is in place, ownership of the property will be transferred to the county, which will manage the site in accordance with the provisions of the land trust’s easement restrictions.
Meanwhile, as it has done with other properties, the land trust hopes to attract volunteers who will work to maintain the forest, Guss said.
“It was a wonderful thing that we could buy it,” she said. “Now we’re trying to figure out how to take good care of it.”
For more information about Trillium Community Forest, and to register your priorities, visit www.wclt.org or call 222-3310.