Protecting the Port Gamble Heritage Forest

West Sound Conservation Council (now disbanded as a formal organization) was one of the founders of the Kitsap Forest & Bay Coalition, the group that brought the now-conserved Port Gamble Heritage Forest into being. The Coalition expanded far beyond WSCC’s early involvement to become the decade-long, multi-group, many-volunteers organization that—under Great Peninsula Conservancy’s leadership—advertised, recruited, negotiated, compromised, innovated, dedicated, and more, eventually raising millions of dollars to purchase thousands of acres of forever forest: the Heritage Forests in Port Gamble and North Kitsap.

During those early days, WSCC countered efforts by the Olympic Property Group to exchange timber land in North Kitsap for the right to develop a commercial marina/hotel complex on Port Gamble Bay. When Kitsap County rejected the development idea, OPG offered to sell the land to any organization that could raise the money. WSCC and others urged formation of a coalition of interested groups. The Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe hosted a kickoff luncheon on April 12, 2011 at their Long House. The turnout was impressive, and at this meeting the parties created the Kitsap Forest and Bay Project (later renamed the Kitsap Forest & Bay Coalition) and elected Sandra Staples-Bortner [Executive Director of the Great Peninsula Conservancy] as chair. Tom Nevins represented WSCC on the Coalition. The project expanded greatly under Great Peninsula Conservancy’s leadership, planning, and public outreach. In the later years of the fundraising push, Forterra (a statewide land-conservancy organization) was brought in with its organizational muscle and money-raising ability to oversee negotiations.
     WSCC helped push events leading up to the formation of the Coalition, but afterwards WSCC’s role was minor. For the next decade, Great Peninsula Conservancy, Kitsap County, the S’Klallam Tribe, and eventually Forterra—working with the owners of the forest, the Olympic Property Group—pulled together the many stakeholders—hikers, bikers, birders, wildlife advocates and native plant enthusiasts, kayakers, equestrians, environmentalists, County representatives, tourism proponents, business owners, politicians, and the Navy. This massive effort succeeded in conserving thousands of acres of forever forest on the Kitsap Peninsula.
     A forest in Kitsap to be preserved natural for plants, animals, and people—at the time, it was just a germ of an idea. But the idea captured people, so it flourished and grew to be the incredible result we now know: Port Gamble and North Kitsap Forest Heritage Parks—but only after thousands of hours of labor by lots of people and organizations working together over the course of a decade, resolving many problems, and raising millions of dollars.

It’s a story often repeated in the conservation world—people coming together to save a special place, and succeeding, often when at the start the obstacles seem insurmountable. The Heritage Forests in Kitsap County are now realities, but as Rachel Carson, one of the founders of the modern environmental movement, so insightfully said,

“Conservation is a cause that has no end. There is no point at which we say, ‘Our work is finished.’”

Conservationists can never relax their vigilance. Because conserved open land is beautiful, desirable, and not degraded, someone covets it to make a dollar. Each era has its challenges and opportunities.

Port Gamble Forest Heritage Park Master Plan.
A steering committee is currently working on the Master Plan development for Port Gamble Forest Heritage Park. A worthy goal of the committee is the “conservation and regeneration of this historic working forest to optimize for more diverse ecosystem” (Judy and Don Willott, “Shaping future birding in Port Gamble!” Kingfisher, [monthly newsletter of the Kitsap Audubon Society], January 2021. You can find this article at > “click here for the latest Kingfisher newsletter” > January 2021 issue.Danger exists, though, in some of the terms used recently regarding the Port Gamble Forest Heritage Park—terms such as “development of the property,” “jobs,” “facilities which support economic benefit,” and “working forests” (as if forests haven’t had a “job” for eons of being habitat for plants and animals). “Working forests” has often been a buzz-phrase for those who seek profit from habitat’s destruction.
     Replanting clear cuts intelligently in the Port Gamble Forest Heritage Park (one last timber harvest was part of the purchase agreement) is important. Constructing bathrooms, parking, and trails (including some paved trails, for use by those with wheelchairs) is necessary for peoples’ access to and use of the park. However, constructing lodging and other buildings within the park (if that is a consideration) must not be allowed, for they are antithetical to the forest remaining undeveloped.Many labored for a decade to wrest this forest away from the development wave that has engulfed much of the east Puget Sound. That wave is now rising on the Kitsap Peninsula, and so it’s even more important that conserved forest lands be rigorously protected.The Port Gamble Forest Heritage Park—which started as a germ of an impossible idea—is now widely pointed to as one of Kitsap’s treasures. Don’t allow pillagers in. Don’t relax vigilance. During this “Master Plan development for Port Gamble Forest Heritage Park,” don’t develop the forest.

Port Gamble Forest Heritage Park Master Plan
A public information session will occur March 16, at 6:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m., which is when we, the public—many of whom worked to bring the Port Gamble Forest Heritage Park into being—will be able to provide input into the planning process. To register for this public meeting (and others that will be held throughout 2021) go to or contact Kitsap County Parks at or 360-337-5350.

Addendum: the Zoom link to tonight’s (16 Mar. 2021, 6:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m) planning meeting is

Michael Maddox (previously a chairperson of West Sound Conservation Council)

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