Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen has given $3.4 million to save part of the Loomis Forest from the saw, covering a price increase imposed earlier this month by the state Board of Natural Resources.
Announced yesterday in Seattle, the gift is one of the largest environmental donations in state history. Among private forest gifts from single donors, it is matched only by the $3.75 million Allen gave two years ago for the Nature Conservancy and Lummi Indian Nation to buy the 2,240-acre Arlecho Creek Forest in Whatcom County, said Elliot Marks, vice president of the conservancy and its Northwest regional director.
The gift is also another piece of largesse to spin off the region's software wealth. Its announcement came hours after the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, as in fellow Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, announced it was giving $10 million to the Seattle Art Museum. The William H. Gates Foundation, led by Bill Gates' father, William H. Gates gave $250,000 to the Loomis Forest Fund earlier this year.
More than 6,000 people have donated $13.1 million to spare from logging 25,000 acres of the forest in north-central Washington. But the Board of Natural Resources, which manages the state-owned forest for school-construction funds, updated its appraisal to $16.5 million earlier this month.
And it gave the Loomis Forest Fund 90 days to raise the extra $3.4 million.
"Paul Allen's record of leadership in forest conservation is clear and very strong," said Mitch Friedman, executive director of the Northwest Ecosystem Alliance, which spearheaded the fund-raising campaign. "Mr. Allen and his foundation have mastered the art of waiting for the right moment to give, and it's extraordinary for us."
"When our presence became needed, we stepped in," said Pablo Schugurensky, manager of the Paul G. Allen Forest Protection Foundation. "We're proud to make gifts where the larger community has participated."
Allen's forest foundation is the newest and smallest of his six foundations, which are also dedicated to the arts, medical research, community charities, music and virtual education. Before the Loomis gift, it had given $12 million to preserve old-growth forests: two $5 million chunks as challenge grants and $1 million donations for Nature Conservancy acquisitions in Oregon and Hawaii.
The Loomis Forest is coveted by conservationists as one of the largest habitats in the country for lynx, subject of a petition for protection under the Endangered Species Act. It is also one of the last, big roadless tracts of state school land.
Under terms of a settlement reached in 1998, the state agreed to hold off on logging the 25,000 acres so conservationists could raise money to cover the cost of transferring it into conservation status. The transfer, which will spare the land from tree cutting and mineral exploration, requires that the state be reimbursed for the parcel's timber and land value.
Friedman said he now will focus on reforming the state school land system. While revenue from the lands pays a small percentage of school-construction costs, the system ends up pitting conservation interests against school interests, he said.
Susan Zemek, a spokeswoman for the Department of Natural Resources, said the Loomis sale could set a precedent for resolving the conflict between uncut forests and schools.
"The agency has an obligation to manage the land in the best interests of the state and get the most money for the trust," she said. "Unless the agency can find a way to do more deals like this, it does pit the two against each other."
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