Friends of the White Salmon River is deeply rooted in the White Salmon watershed and in Klickitat and Skamania Counties. Activists since 1976, we’ve worked hard to protect the river. SDS Lumber Company is also rooted here, acquiring 100,000 acres of timberland over 75 years and managing that land and the mill for long-term sustainability.
SDS announced upcoming changes for the company’s future: All company assets, including timberland and the mill, will be placed on the market in the spring of 2021. This news, especially at this time, is shocking and raises serious concerns about the effect of the sale on its employees, local businesses, and the forest. SDS owns timberland in five counties, including Hood River, Wasco, Skamania, Yakima, and Klickitat, so their decision about future ownership will have regional effects.
SDS provides significant benefits to the community. It is a major economic engine. They directly employ about 300 people, and they contract with local timber operators. SDS owns the land in White Salmon where our supermarket and library are located. Their business is crucial to ancillary and supporting businesses. Innumerable community events and charities have benefited from SDS donations and support.
Equally, SDS forest parcels are deeply woven into the life of the area. The parcels are scattered throughout the region, often adjoining public land and along waterways. People hike, hunt, launch their boats, gather food, and enjoy wildlife observation on SDS lands. Many animal species utilize the habitat, corridors, and access to water provided by these parcels.
Our region is noted for biological diversity. Much of the SDS land plays a role in maintaining that diversity. SDS land is concentrated in watersheds that are crucial for salmon, steelhead, native trout, lamprey, and other native fish species. SDS lands in the Rattlesnake Creek watershed are critical for support of many of these fish species. SDS land also includes important oak habitat. Many of the seeps, springs, and tributaries that feed the White Salmon River originate on or cross SDS land.
SDS’ long-term/long-rotation timber management provides significant benefits to humans and wildlife. The company is notable for compliance with timber harvest regulations, including those concerning cultural resources. Leaving aside the question of whether those regulations sufficiently protect the environment, which they do not, it is clearly preferable for a company to comply with existing laws, and SDS largely has.
We know that the company has a responsibility to its shareholders; we hope and expect that responsibility can be met and still ensure the best possible outcome for the land, the community, the forest, and SDS. We think it is possible to preserve the Stevenson family legacy and to meet the shareholder financial goals while supporting the community and the watersheds where the company operates.
Protection of the watershed and the river is the mission of Friends of the White Salmon River, so of course our thoughts turn first to those issues. The potential negative outcomes are easy to see: The sale of SDS lands has the potential to lead to short-term timber harvest, followed by parcel fragmentation and residential development, leading to environmental stress and a host of potential negative changes.
The continued operation of the mill has been a driving force in maintaining the long-term harvest rotation practices used by SDS. We value the knowledge and skill and well-being of the many SDS employees — our friends and neighbors. For these and many other reasons, we would prefer to see the SDS business continued as a vertically-integrated forest and mill enterprise.
As a local environmental group, we do not presume to speak for others. We have, however, engaged in many conversations with people from all walks of life in the region who will be affected by the decision SDS makes. There is a high level of local concern about outcomes.
We are also speaking to those companies and organizations interested in acquiring the assets of the SDS Lumber Company. These are some of the concerns we’ve heard.
- Preserving the current business structure with forest land, mill, and equipment under one ownership
- Maintaining healthy forest conditions with diverse tree species
- Keeping economic benefits in the community
- Providing long-term habitat and wildlife corridors
- Protecting cultural resources, including treaty rights on ceded land
- Preserving public access to the land and streams, continuing current public access policies
- Storing carbon in the forest and land and using forest management practices to improve climate conditions
- Supporting the local economy with stable employment opportunities with benefits
- Implement forest practices for salmon recovery, including maintenance of water quality
- Exercising land management practices that protect ground and surface water supplies for drinking water
- Strengthening wildfire prevention at the landscape level and for residential safety
- Completing the promised transfer of SDS parcels within the Wild and Scenic river segment
- Avoiding forest fragmentation and parcel development.
We think public discussion, including local elected officials, is essential. An opportunity to express concerns and work toward the future together is both empowering and reassuring.
We invite people to start this discussion on our webpage. Follow this link and leave your comments and thoughts. We will seek ways to make on-going discussion productive and useful.
We encourage SDS to share what information they can over these next months and to energize the power of the community toward positive results for all.