Snoqualmie Tree Farm

adapted from a 1992 article by David Battey

The Snoqualmie Tree Farm is 90,000 acres, which is nearly twice the size of Seattle and stretches from Snoqualmie Falls nearly 25 miles north into Snohomish County and nearly as far east from Duvall and Carnation.

Weyerhaeuser owned and operated the tree farm, improved the gravel roads, set up power and phone lines, and provided amenities such as trails and community picnic areas. In March 2003, a $185 million deal was signed to the Boston-based Hancock Timber Resource Group to control an area of forest long coveted by Northwest conservationists.

In 2004, King County agreed to acquire the development rights of the Snoqualmie tree farm from Hancock Timber Resource Group for $22 million through a deal made by the Cascade Land Conservancy. Hancock, which bought the land from Weyerhaeuser Co. of Federal Way in March 2003, maintained ownership and logging rights to the land, but any development is controlled by the county. The transaction is expected to close in late 2009. In 2015 Hancock sold the land to Campbell Global. In 2022, the Snoqualmie Tribe purchased 12,000 acres of the Snoqualmie Tree Farm.

When sold, the Weyerhaeuser presence so strong in the economic vitality of King County since 1900 was dramatically diminished.  But we need ask ourselves an important question.  Why wasn’t this highly developable land broken up and sold decades before, as were all other large private landholdings in King County?

In most early Puget Sound area saw milling, the timber, or “stumpage” was purchased from the owner of the land — which usually was neither the mill that processed the logs nor the woods operation that harvested them.  Under these circumstances it seemed logical financially to cut just the prime timber, and leave any re-forestation up to nature.  Nature was often slow and usually more interested in alder, cottonwood and brush than prime conifers.

When a company did own the land they logged they almost always sold it off as inexpensive “stump farms” soon after it was cut.  In fact, some logged-off land was not considered worth paying taxes on — and was allowed to revert back to the state.  This problem was so severe that Washington State created a special department to clean up such lands and find purchasers for the property.

But the Snoqualmie Falls Lumber Company (later Weyerhaeuser) adopted a unique approach.  The Company, which owned almost all of the lands it logged, decided just eleven years after incorporation and eight years after cutting their first log, that selling off so many acres of prime timber growing property was not good long-term policy.

Origins of the Snoqualmie Tree Farm

The acres of forest lands owned by the Snoqualmie Falls Lumber Company were a legacy of the days of the pioneer railroads, when the United States government gave away land in alternating sections as an incentive to railroad expansion.

The Weyerhaeuser family purchased their holdings in the Valley from the Northern Pacific Railroad in January of 1900.  Hindsight tells us that this was a good buy – but the history of forest fires, both natural and human generated, made this, in fact, a risky investment in 1900.  Just the wrong combination of weather and luck could have turned most of Western Washington into a landscape of smoking snags.  At the turn of the century there were few provisions for fighting forest fires.  Unless they threatened a town, fires often simply burned themselves out without human intervention.

These new Weyerhaeuser holdings were, furthermore, checkerboarded with lands held by the Rockefeller family.  This made access to the timber almost impossible, since you could not get to adjacent sections without trespassing.  Your lands just touched at the alternate section corners.

The Grandin-Coast Lumber Company was formed in 1906, with heavy investment by the Fisher family (with interests in Fisher’s flour and lumber operations) and their business associates.  Grandin-Coast immediately purchased the Rockefeller holdings that alternated with the Weyerhaeuser land.  With two lumber oriented families involved it is surprising that it took until 1914 for the Snoqualmie Falls Lumber Company to be incorporated.  Stock in this company was split roughly 1/3 Fisher and associates and 2/3 Weyerhaeuser, based on the percentage of land owned by each group.  The new mill became operational on November 25, 1917 — in time to provide significant critical resources for WWI.  In fact, straight, clear, light but strong Sitka spuce from logs like the one pictured on page 1 of this newsletter, was specified as a strategic war material —required to build airplanes.

As noted, it was unusual for the logging/milling operators to own their own timberland, or to keep it after logging.  So it was very innovative back in 1925, when Snoqualmie Falls Lumber Company management made an unusual public statement.  It read, “Reforestation of the logged off lands of the Snoqualmie Falls Lumber Company, maintaining a perpetual stand of growing timber on all areas more suitable for this purpose than for agriculture, has been adopted as one of the progressive measures of this company.”  In fact, the company took this policy so seriously that they began purchasing logged-off lands that were good tree growing areas and contiguous with their property, including acreage from Weyerhaeuser and the State of Washington.

As the science of Forestry progressed, so did the commitment of the company.  The 1925 statement relied on standard practices of the time to re-forest.  A few solitary seed trees were left standing on logged-off land, and seeds were scattered by hand.  Later re-forestation practices depended on growing seedling trees and hand transplanting them onto the logged-off area.  A seedling nursery was started at Snoqualmie Falls in 1938.  The first tree-farm plantings were in September of 1942, and the Snoqualmie Falls Tree Farm was given certification (the sixth in the nation) in 1943.

This perpetual yield philosophy has resulted in ongoing land stewardship programs that bring us the thousands of acres of vigorous second and third-growth timber that cover the Snoqualmie Tree Farm today.