(A community website for this cause is at SouthworthForest.org.)
My name is Christian Clemmensen, and I love trees. It's funny, because I'm allergic to some of them, I'm certainly too clumsy to climb them, and I'm humiliated by my botanist brother-in-law because I can't remember their Latin species names. But I still love trees, and lucky for me, my wife, Stella, and two sons do, too.
We bought a highly visible, 5-acre forest near the ferry terminal in Southworth, Washington across from Seattle in 2016. It became our mission to restore it by removing decades of dangerous garbage from encampments and fighting bloody battles with noxious blackberries (the scourge of our area!) to replace them with young trees recommended by a local arborist. Watching everywhere near Seattle becoming deforested and developed, our goal is to ensure that Southworth has one more healthy forest for a new generation.
The neighbors next to us at Southworth had a beautifully maintained forest, and we wanted to make our forest as healthy as theirs. Sadly, our best inspiration quickly became our worst nightmare. Clear-cutters bought that property in 2017 and plowed much of that forest down to bare dirt without the proper county or state permits because they apparently wanted to own a pasture instead. (It doesn't make sense to us, either!) Worse yet, their clearing extended into our forest. Stella and I went through the classic stages of grief and couldn't sleep for weeks.
Initially, we tried to get our county, Kitsap, involved to stop the clear-cutting in progress, but they mostly ignored us. The county eventually cited the clear-cutters for several violations, but their staff has waived some of the clear-cutters' fees and required corrective steps. A county code compliance coordinator even emailed us to say that they don't punish violators. She said, "Our goal in this Department is not to write civil infractions against a property owner, they just don't work." It's no wonder some people might try to skirt the law!
After we confronted the clear-cutters directly and expressed our angst over their violations, they submitted a permit to remove up to 70 more trees in our forest using a disputed easement across our land. Their plans say it's for a second entrance to their property dedicated to their new "agricultural operations." Perhaps to nobody's surprise, they also stated an interest in purchasing our forest. It was the first time Stella and I ever felt that a neighbor was trying to force us to sell our property. It's incredibly sad and frustrating.
We felt obligated to file legal action against the clear-cutters in Kitsap Superior Court for negligence, nuisance, timber trespass, and the disputed easement. Other neighbors who suffered from the clear-cutting don't have the means to fight this battle. One of them wept when the clear-cutters removed trees on her property, too. (We donated young trees to help re-forest that part of her property.) We're carrying this torch for her and all our impacted friends in the Southworth community.
We need your help to stop the clear-cutters. They have unleashed what seems like a legion of insurance company lawyers from Seattle upon us. They filed counter-claims against us to prevent us from reforesting the areas they want to further clear our property and stop us from building a solid fence on our shared boundary. The fence and tree buffer are needed to prevent the new, hot winds and dust that now threaten our forest with the neighboring trees gone. It's everything we fear from climate change, and we have already lost young trees near the clear-cut.
We cannot afford to fight the clear-cutters and hope to ever restore our own forest as well. While we have spent $4,000 on our forest restoration, the fees paid to our lawyer, surveyor, and arborist while trying to confront the clear-cutters reached $20,686.25 as of January 2022. That's a scary amount of money to us, and the legal bills keep rolling in each month. We realized then that we needed help from other tree-lovers.
We're asking for your financial support to reach these goals:
- Continue restoring our Southworth forest. We've cured about half the acreage of invasive, noxious blackberries and planted about 150 conifer trees of half to five-gallon sizes with dedicated deer protection on each to ensure survivability. They are watered by hand each summer. Our sons are learning to be great tree stewards.
- Stop the clear-cutters from killing up to another 70 trees in our Southworth forest. If these trees are lost, the heat and wind from the original clear-cut will cause stress to our reforestation efforts. In particular, the nearby Western red cedars are already suffering from faster die-back the last three summers.
- Force the clear-cutters to replant a buffer around the edge of their own violated area. Those who destroy forests without the proper permits or associated community notification and input should restore buffers to protect all of their neighbors from the damaging effects of the lost canopy.
If we don't stop clear-cutters from violating the law in a place like Southworth, how will we ever teach younger generations the value of trees in protecting us from climate change? Local governments can fail us, and some neighbors will simply never care. But my family wants to inspire the love of forests everywhere, and we need your help to do that.
Our stated GoFundMe goal is probably too conservative to save all our Southworth forest from the clear-cutters, but it will keep us in the legal game long enough to hopefully make a difference in the outcome. Even if we can't stop the clear-cutters and their insurance company lawyers, at least we can use your support to continue restoring the remainder of our own forest that they cannot claim any legal reason to destroy.
You can learn more about the Southworth forest (including more pictures!) and associated legal case at SouthworthForest.org. We are in debt to the Southworth community for its support during this challenging time, and we remain hopeful we can reduce the effects of climate change in our beautiful Puget Sound neighborhood if we stick together.
(Much of the forest in the photo above is already gone, but the clear-cutters have submitted another permit to kill the rest of the trees you see in the middle of the photo.)