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Community forests: Group aims to preserve 27,000 acres in Central Cascades

Wire reports

From wire reports

A new stakeholder group seeks to create a locally managed community forest in Kittitas County.

The Checkerboard Partnership brings together residents of Kittitas County to permanently preserve community access and use of 27,000 acres of privately owned land. Part of the project aims to determine the viability of a locally designed and managed community forest that supports economic vitality, recreational opportunities, conservation and forest health in the region.

The Checkerboard Partnership takes its name from the square-mile railroad parcels that once cut the Central Cascades into an enormous grid. Private owners and land managers have worked together for decades to knit these blocks back together. In 2014, The Nature Conservancy took action to secure and manage former Plum Creek Timber checkerboard lands, pausing potential for development.

The partnership includes interested community members as well as representatives from local cities and Kittitas County, Kittitas Conservation Trust, Mountains to Sound Greenway, The Nature Conservancy, Hope Source, local, state and national agencies, and the Yakama Nation.

Gary Berndt, former mayor of Cle Elum and Kittitas County Commissioner, is one of the members of the partnership. Berndt sees this as an important opportunity that the community cannot afford to miss out on.

“I remember when Plum Creek Timber Company placed approximately 7,500 acres for sale close to Cle Elum and Roslyn and we felt that no one would purchase that,” Berndt said. “Those lands are now the five-star resort Suncadia and it has changed the community’s access and use of the lands they were used to.”

Lands under consideration for inclusion in the new community forest include 27,000 privately owned acres along the I-90 corridor in Upper Kittitas County. These lands are in the Cabin Creek, Taneum and Cle Elum Ridge areas and are the backyard for many Kittitas communities.

The proposed community forest lands are adjacent to state and federal lands, including the Teanaway Community Forest, the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest and the LT Murray Wildlife Area. Many popular trails, motorized and nonmotorized, connect the checkerboard parcels to these public lands. They are home to hundreds of fish, bird and wildlife species, sheltered by mixed conifer forest, and hold long-term potential to be managed as sustainable working forests.

The first community forest in Kittitas County, Teanaway, was created in 2013 through the Yakima Basin Integrated Plan collaborative effort. The Teanaway Community Forest is a state-owned community forest co-managed by the Washington Department of Natural Resources and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

“The Checkerboard Partnership is looking to form a Kittitas County community-led forest that complements the efforts underway in the Teanaway Community Forest and collaboratively works with their advisory committee,” partnership facilitator Melissa Speeg said. “While the governance structures between the two will likely be different, they will likely share similar goals for forest and watershed health and work together to achieve those goals along shared boundaries.”

Speeg also said the same may be true for adjoining agency lands.

“We want to look at managing our lands at a landscape-scale and this community forest will give us the opportunity to work with state and federal agencies to do that,” she said.

For more information about the Checkerboard Partnership and the community forest effort, visit the web site, or contact Partnership facilitators Melissa Speeg at or Brian Straniti at

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