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Owner protects 176-acre forest

LANGLEY, Wash. – When Harry Case was in his early teens, he went with his family on a trip into the Cascades and saw a forest that had been clear cut.

“I got disgusted,” said Case, now 84. He vowed to own a chunk of forest land that he could preserve.

A few years later, in 1946, he bought that piece of land: 176 acres on Whidbey Island, about three miles west of Langley. He paid $5 an acre – $880, or about $11,000 today.

“You couldn’t find that now,” he said.

All this time, Case, who retired 20 years ago as a trombone player for the Seattle Symphony, has kept his promise to himself.

He’s thinned the trees periodically and sold the timber, but kept the forest intact. A Seattle resident, he’s never built anything larger on the property than a tiny, rudimentary cabin.

A few years ago, he put his vow into law by placing the property into a conservation trust with the Whidbey Camano Land Trust. Case led several trust members and other interested people on a walking tour of the property on Wednesday.

Under his legal agreement with the group, Case can thin the forest and even do annual, small cuts that mimic natural blowdowns. But he can’t build anything more than a new cabin to replace the current one.

At no time in the future can the land be developed, either by Case, his descendants or anyone to whom they may sell the property. Local zoning would have allowed it to be subdivided into lots for a total of 35 homes, according to the land trust group.

“In 50 years, 100 years, the property’s still going to be a working forest,” said Jessica Larson, a stewardship associate with the Whidbey Camano Land Trust, based in Greenbank.

The forest isn’t open to the public, primarily for liability reasons, but Case and land trust officials lead tours every so often. It’s possible that someday in the future it could be opened up.

“Just to see this amount of woods preserved is really fantastic,” said Elizabeth Davis, of Freeland, who took the tour Wednesday.

Case’s property was logged around 1918, he said, so the forest is second growth. It has a few larger trees, including one cedar estimated to be about 400 years old. Several wetlands also are located on the property.


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