Save Morse Creek Salmon Forest Habitat
Save Morse Creek Salmon Forest Habitat
Above: Morse Creek 96 acre River Mile of ESA-Listed Salmon and Trout Critical Forest Habitat (Time Lapse Photo by Peter and Oona Bill 2019)
Port Angeles City Council: Time is Running Out to Accept North Olympic Land Trust's Fair Market Value Purchase Offer To Preserve 96 acres with a River Mile of Ecologically Critical Morse Creek Salmon Forest Habitat
Our state’s wild salmon are in BIG trouble. WaDFW projects Puget Sound salmon returns to decline again this year. Orcas are starving to death off Port Angeles because there are not enough salmon. North Olympic fisherman are frustrated and local fishing economies depressed because there are not enough salmon. Why? Salmon require clean, cold creeks and rivers with water flows deep enough to float a spawning fish as it swims upstream in the dry season of late summer and fall. Salmon require salmon habitat. The citizens of Port Angeles have a right to know that the City of Port Angeles Staff and Council have quietly over the past year in private meetings and closed council sessions flat out rejected a Full Fair Market Value Purchase Offer from North Olympic Land Trust to buy and preserve forever 96 acres with a river mile of ecologically critical mature salmon forest habitat the City owns in Morse Creek watershed on the east side of Port Angeles. Why?
As a pledged major private conservation donor I was in the room in July 2018 when City Manager Nathan West gave North Olympic Land Trust an MOU promising an exclusive sale of this ecologically critical 96-acre Morse Creek mature salmon forest with a priceless river mile of ESA-listed salmon habitat to the land trust for conservation. With this good faith promise from the City, the land trust fully committed to this project and invested many hours of staff time working on this because with the City representing itself as a good faith conservation seller the success of the project seemed assured. The land trust applied for and won a highly competitive state salmon habitat conservation grant that covers 80% of total acquisition cost up to $500,000 for this Morse Creek salmon forest habitat. They earned the grant because this is recognized high quality Morse Creek salmon forest habitat that is ecologically essential to survival and restoration of Morse Creek salmon populations.
The state salmon habitat conservation grant required and paid for an expensive exhaustive 2019 independent peer-reviewed professional appraisal costing tens of thousands of dollars of state tax payer money, to objectively and conservatively determine the property’s Fair Market Value. Neither land trust or City could know the current fair market value of this land-locked, steep-sided, landslide-prone, Morse Creek mature forest land with a disputed legal easement access. Because of the City’s MOU and the clear terms of the state salmon habitat conservation grant requiring an independent professional property appraisal it was assumed there would be no dispute over the final selling price between a supposed good faith public seller desiring a conservation land sale and a non-profit land trust conservation buyer. But when the April 2019 appraised value of the Morse Creek 96 acres came in at $120,000 the City Staff shocked the land trust and all involved and bluntly said ‘no’ demanding many times the 2019 appraised value!
What went wrong? Both parties had agreed beforehand to an open-handed good faith process between a City that says it wants to preserve its critical local Morse Creek salmon forest habitat but get some cash money out of the sale and the local non-profit land trust who is not a speculative extractive profit-seeking real estate buyer. This good faith negotiation relied heavily on the upfront understanding that an independent state funded property appraisal process would determine the price of this ecologically critical salmon forest habitat and that process produced an unbiased professionally researched and peer-reviewed fair market value number.
But for six months now the City Staff has bluntly refused to accept the 2019 appraised Fair Market Value and have dismissed the land trust’s salmon habitat conservation grant based offer saying they want triple or quadruple the 2019 appraised value. There was a time in the weeks and months of March and April 2019 when the appraisal was being prepared and coordinated by the land trust in full open communication with City Staff for Staff to make their case for a higher value in the context of the neutral professional appraisal process. The City Staff had weeks of opportunity to present its own valuation facts and opinions, but they did not. Why not?! And because the City Staff was silent when the appraisal was being prepared now the land trust is trapped by the 2019 appraisal and can only pay the appraised value or lose its accreditation.
With this insane institutional impasse threatening loss of the valuable state salmon habitat conservation grant Clallam County and Port Angeles citizens must now step in and rescue their City Staff and Council and help them answer the question, ‘What is the fair market value of hope for wild salmon populations in Morse Creek?’
Your local North Olympic Land Trust has done its job and presented a full Fair Market Value written purchase offer to the City of Port Angeles. City Staff have recommended the City Council reject the land trust’s offer which they did without any record of their deliberation in a private session. A lonely lobbying effort last fall by Councilman Lindsey Schromen-Warrin to convince fellow City Council Members to reconsider the land trust’s Morse Creek purchase offer has fallen on deaf ears. Current Port Angeles City Council and City Staff appear quite ready to let this critical Morse Creek salmon forest conservation project die in the dark with few Port Angeles and Clallam County residents outside City Hall even knowing such a valuable conservation opportunity existed and was lost.
The citizens of Port Angeles have a right to know NOW especially given the uncertain economic collapse and recovery times ahead their last best opportunity to protect Morse Creek salmon forest habitat and get paid a pre-pandemic-collapse Fair Market Value is about to be lost. It is unlikely the Washington State budget will have grant money for habitat conservation available especially after the City of Port Angeles rejected it once and the degrading fragmented Morse Creek forest and stream habitat is simply a perishing precious natural resource. The time limit on the state salmon grant has been extended once as the land trust has desperately sought creative options to add money to their 2019 appraisal limited purchase offer including a separate private cash conservation offer for scientific research and monitoring rights to develop forest conservation carbon credits to benefit City of Port Angeles that would immediately double the cash on closing for the City last December. The City Staff and Council did not even bother to reply! The City Council has not even offered the North Olympic Land Trust an invitation to make the case for conservation directly in open session to City Council so there is only guessing to determine why the City would repeatedly reject the full fair market value conservation purchase offer it sought from the land trust in 2018!
Time for Morse Creek salmon conservation is running out at the end of May. Private funding in place six months ago has already been lost and the hard-won public salmon grant money for Morse Creek conservation must be released back to the state in June. If you are a citizen of the City of Port Angeles and want Morse Creek salmon and trout to have a fighting chance of survival please let your City Council know immediately you strongly support the City accepting the land trust’s full Fair Market Value purchase offer. Salmon are running out of time.
We have only a few weeks before we lose the salmon conservation grant. Please Email Port Angeles City Council this week and urge they accept the Morse Creek 96 acre salmon forest conservation purchase offer from North Olympic Land Trust: firstname.lastname@example.org
The Author of This Petition: Albert Foster, Morse Creek Watershed Resident, 4th Generation Washington State Family, MS in Ecosystems Analysis University of Washington College of Forest Resources (2002), Member North Olympic Land Trust and Olympic Climate Action, 30 years private conservation acquisition and management experience.
Above Photo taken 2018 on Morse Creek 96 acre ESA-listed salmon forest habitat owned by City of Port Angeles (author photo)