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Land conservation effort is challenging, but exciting | Noo-Kayet, Our Village

Earlier this year, a historic event took place in Kitsap County.

On an overcast day in mid-October, I joined leaders from Olympic Property Group (OPG), Kitsap County, Suquamish Tribe, and land conservation group Forterra (formerly Cascade Land Conservancy) to announce an effort to conserve as much as 7,000 acres and two miles of shoreline along Port Gamble Bay.

This is the single-largest conservation opportunity ever undertaken in Puget Sound.

All of this land is owned by OPG’s parent company, Pope Resources, who has made it clear they want out of their real estate holdings in Kitsap County. We applaud their efforts in attempting a creative solution to sell the land while benefitting the community.

This new, recently announced conservation effort represents the last, best opportunity for the Kitsap community to preserve the land as it exists today. OPG has made it clear that the next step is to break up the land into 20-acre parcels for individual sale. To be sure, the challenges we face with this endeavor are significant: the option agreement for the land spans just 18 months and the clock started to tick in late September.  This isn’t to say that all the land must be purchased within that time frame, but significant progress must be made to convince OPG of the plan’s viability. To purchase the land, Forterra, who is heading up the effort, will pursue grants and private donations, while the Great Kitsap Forest & Bay Project — a coalition of community and business organizations — will launch a public outreach campaign. While all this is happening, our Tribe and the other entities will pursue other fundraising options.

This is truly a group effort and that’s what makes it so exciting: Everyone — from OPG and the county to the Tribes and the community — are coming together to help positively impact the landscape of Kitsap County for generations. For our Tribe, this is significant as the eventual outcome for the most delicate areas being discussed — namely the shoreline of Port Gamble Bay — has a direct impact on our culture and way of life.

The Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe has lived on the shores of Port Gamble Bay for more than 1,000 years. According to oral traditions, our original ancestral home was where the town of Port Gamble now sits. We were moved across to Point Julia in 1853 to make way for the Port Gamble sawmill. The connection between our homes has always been Port Gamble Bay. Since time immemorial, the bay has provided our people with an essential link to the past, not to mention food for our tables.

Over the past several months, as momentum for this conservation effort has begun to build, we’ve seen how passionately people feel about this land. Yes, it’s a beautiful part of the world, but it’s more than that. Like members of our Tribe, the love, the connection everyone involved feels for this area — their home — is strong and they want to do what they can to protect it.

The effort to conserve this vast area of land is truly an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. There’s a long road ahead, but we’ve taken the essential first step.

If you’re interested in becoming involved, please visit www.greatkitsapforestbay.org or email info@greatpeninsula.org.

 

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