A final 80 acres has been secured by King County for conservation as part of a larger plot near North Bend, completing a land acquisition process 25 years in the making.
County officials announced earlier this month they had purchased the remaining 80 acres of a 250-acre conservation area called the Rattlesnake Mountain Scenic Area across Interstate 90, south of North Bend. The last 80 acres cost $1.57 million to the county, with more coming from the state. The purchase was the result of federal, state and local governments which bought the privately-owned land to add to more than 1,800 acres of public land near North Bend. It completes a connection of public conservation land binding the Cedar River Watershed with its 90,000 acres of public open space with the Raging River State Forest. Those areas are now connected to the wildlife underpass beneath I-90 near North Bend.
“You want an unfragmented landscape — once you begin to fragment the landscape with clear-cutting or logging, it does detract from the wildlife habitat there,” said King County natural resource land planner Kelly Heintz.
Several species of native wildlife live in the area, including large animals like bear, cougar, elk, deer and mountain goats. The older forest in the area also provides habitat for migratory birds, eagles, woodpeckers and possibly the spotted owl. Protecting these areas from future logging will help these animals survive into the future.
“It really provides a connection that’s important for wildlife that moves throughout that landscape,” Heintz said.
The county is planning to work with the Washington State Department of Natural Resources and the city of North Bend to build trails from the city which will connect with the Raging River State Forest. No new trailheads are planned on the land yet, but Heintz said the county is looking at nearby property to buy for recreational uses.
The 80-acre purchase sets in place the final piece in a land acquisition puzzle that has been in the works since 1993, when public purchases began to create the Rattlesnake Mountain Scenic Area. Within its 250-acre footprint there are more than 13 acres of hiking trails. The purchase was funded by state and local governments through the Transfer of Development Rights program and the Conservation Futures Tax, as well as funding from the land conservation organization Forterra.
“It really took this effort of multiple agencies and nonprofit organizations to make this happen,” Heintz said.
The Rattlesnake Mountain purchases are part of a new King County program to buy 65,000 acres of land for conservation. The program, known as the Land Conservation Initiative, launched last spring. The program has a goal of purchasing 13,400 acres of farmland, 20,600 acres of natural lands for wildlife and recreation, 26,500 acres for forestlands and 2,400 acres of green and open space in urban centers. Those lands are spread out across the county from areas along the Tolt River in East King County to trails on the Weyerhaeuser campus in Federal Way.
The conservation program is covered by the Conservation Futures Tax, a property tax levied for land conservation which was started in 1982. The program is expected to bring in about $148 million over the next four years. County leaders said in May the program was started to purchase and preserve land in the region before property prices became prohibitively high.