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Seattle City Council approves tree-thinning plan that could generate up to $200K

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(The Center Square) – The Seattle City Council has approved a bill to clear out a non-contiguous 600 acres of valuable timber surrounding the nearby Cedar River Watershed and boost the city’s water fund.

The ordinance authorizes the sale of surplus timber from ecological thinning conducted under the Cedar River Watershed Habitat Conservation Plan and Forest Management Plan. The removal of some trees gives other trees more room to grow.

According to Council Bill 120725, the purpose of the project is to improve forest habitat and biodiversity by reducing forest density, creating canopy gaps, and planting additional tree and shrub species.

The Cedar River Watershed Habitat Conservation Plan works to address declining populations of fish and wildlife in the Cedar River basin, including local species of salmon and steelhead. The Cedar River basin is a land area in King County in which rainwater drains to Lake Washington and out through the Hiram Chittenden Locks.

Costs associated with the ecological thinning are approximately $149,000 annually, with labor averaging 78% of the expenditures and non-labor averaging the remaining 22%. Operating costs of this program will be covered by existing appropriations in the 2023-2024 Seattle Public Utilities spending plan, according to a fiscal note.

The legislation, passed unanimously by the city council on Tuesday, covers 2024 through 2028. Seattle Public Utilities estimated up to 6.7 million board feet of merchantable logs will be declared surplus and sold as a result of ecological thinning.

Proceeds from the sale of these logs could range from $10,000 to over $200,000 per year, after logging costs, according to the council bill.

All timber revenues will be deposited into the city’s water fund, and while they are not applied as an expense reduction, they offset costs of the Cedar River Watershed Habitat Conservation Plan implementation.

The Cedar River Municipal Watershed produces two-thirds of the water supply for 1.5 million Seattle Public Utilities customers.

Council Bill 120725 was originally proposed by former councilmember Alex Pedersen. Councilmember Joy Hollingsworth became a co-sponsor of the bill.

Seattle Public Utilities and the Muckleshoot Tribe support the legislation.

The tribe wrote a letter to the city council, stating that the Muckleshoot Tribe has a long history on the Cedar River Watershed.

“We believe the proposed thinning projects will help improve forest health and add much-needed biodiversity to dense, overstocked second-growth forests, while protecting existing old forest and its ecological value,” the tribe wrote in a letter.

The legislation now goes to Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell for his signature.

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