Escaping the Liberal Dilemma

March 15, 2017
| By
Ryan Roberts

Escaping the Liberal Dilemma

A Transition From Extraction To Recreation

Non-extractive use of wild places

How recreation can give a voice to the trees


Local governments in Washington State rely upon revenue generated by timber harvest on State Trust Lands. State managed forests are held in trust by the Department of Natural Resources to produce non-tax revenue for local governments. Blanchard Mountain is one of these State Trust Lands, managed by the DNR for the benefit of the county it resides in. These forests are valued on the ledger by a number that only reflects its value as measured by it’s extractive potential, which fails to accommodate for non-extractive uses of wild and natural spaces. The competing interest in natural spaces between business interests, state funding and other uses such as recreation, create a perverse incentivized demand for the lumber of natural wooded spaces. The recreation industry creates an effective and sustainable alternative to extraction that perpetuates and protects natural spaces, while providing economic benefit to surrounding communities. The business model I am using for Flow Motion Trail Tours, my guided mountain bike adventure company, illustrates a roadmap for how I’d like to position my business in that transition from extraction to recreation. My goal is to create a positive feedback loop between my business and the environment that supports the needs of stakeholders in a more equitable way, and changes the way we view and value natural spaces.


It is no question that institutions of the State of Washington are highly dependant on State Trust Lands. According to the Department of Natural Resources land managers, “Public K-12 grade schools statewide, state universities, other state educational institutions, and prisons” (DNR Website, Managed Lands) are all beneficiaries of the revenue generated from State Trust Lands. The land is managed in a variety of ways, all in the interest of producing reliable revenue for trustees.

There is a nearby example, Blanchard Mountain, which is held in trust to provide funding for public schools in Skagit County. While Blanchard is an enormously popular destination for hikers, horseback riders, mountain bikers and paragliders, it is also Trust Land slated to be logged in 2017. The DNR and supporting organizations are relying on a petition to the legislature for an additional $7.7 million in funding to the $6.5 million already allocated to protect the core of Blanchard Mountain. In this particular instance, it seems it will take State allocated funding or the grace of wealthy local donors to ensure that Blanchard goes uncut and remains available for enjoyment by future generations.

A prime example that might how we ought to approach Blanchard is Galbraith, a working forest within the city limits with a vibrant recreation community that enjoys it’s woods. Parcels are cut, and trails are rebuilt in a cooperative relationship between the City of Bellingham, the Whatcom Mountain Biking Coalition and Trillium Corporation. There are however differences that set Galbraith and Blanchard apart and make a direct transference of land management practice impractical between the two.

Blanchard Mountain is home to a special forest. Though it has been logged before, it exhibits all the telltale characteristics of a forest approaching old-growth: trees of advanced age, mixed-age stands, varying canopy heights with patchy openings, downed trees and woody debris in various stages of decay acting as nursery logs, rich loamy soil and a diversity of tree species. Forests like this are increasingly scarce and impossible to replace within our lifetime, providing nearly incalculable ecosystem services. Beyond economic utility however, Blanchard has a certain magic, that by transport 20 minutes from Bellingham, one can reach truly ancient feeling forest.

What I will focus on however is the opportunity to shift away from extractive practice in filling the demand for state revenue. Logging as it once was in Washington State, is no longer and there are interesting examples of communities in Washington switching it up and revamping their local economies to become recreation hubs that support the experience of the outdoors. One such community that was previously reliant on the timber industry is Oso, Washington, recently hit by a massive landslide that obliterated part of the town. At a recent convention held in Oso, the city leadership have decided to utilize their FEMA money to pivot towards becoming a recreation destination. We should take note and seek to preserve Blanchard for the same reason Oso is pivoting towards recreation and developing it’s trail networks - the recreation industry and adventure travel are growing, providing ample reason to treasure and maintain our natural spaces.

I propose that instead of relying on extractive forestry to pay for our infrastructure needs, that we switch our focus to recreation and the enjoyment of the natural spaces we are blessed with, starting with Blanchard. The diagram above illustrates the positive feedback loop that is involved with businesses reliant on Blanchard. The business I am building, Flow Motion Trail Tours, would rely on the quality of the trails on Blanchard, make investments in the network of trails existing and advocate for the expansion of said network. As the quality of the network increases, so does the demand for the space itself, feeding into more business by which to leverage for trail advocacy and development. Bellingham as it stands has a rapidly growing guiding industry with three new businesses seeking to provide guided experiences in the woods.

As it stands, Blanchard has a little economic voice in the conversation over its future. This untenable situation may end up being solved by either clear cutting Blanchard or by pulling money from some other necessary or important program to fund the protection of Blanchard. I believe we ought to explore solutions that do not require such imbalanced and inequitable approaches. Through advocacy, trail maintenance and financial contributions, businesses like mine will seek to make clear that pristine natural wooded spaces are more valuable uncut into perpetuity then denuded and turned into lumber. Businesses like mine will seek to create economic rationale to preserving these special places.

Ryan Roberts

I've been cycling since I was a wee tyke. Whether riding around town or hollering down singletrack, my life is centered around the bike. Where the miles fly by, you lose yourself in the narrow strip of dirt ahead and the blur of the trees, where the joy is written on your face and the excitement in your eyes.

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