PAT NEAL: A lack of faith in Hoh River Trust

IT WAS ANOTHER tough week in the news for those of us who love the Hoh River.

The Hoh River Trust decided to give 7,000 acres of timberland to The Nature Conservancy.

What is the Hoh River Trust?

That is a question that many people have been asking since this consortium of utopian dreamers, grant-sucking bureaucrats and pie-in-the sky environmental scammers was formed in 2001.

At the time, the Hoh River was considered the last best salmon and steelhead river in the continental United States with the most rainfall, the biggest trees and a natural heritage that goes back to the time when the Thunderbird was said to live in the glaciers of Mount Olympus.

The Hoh River country was one of the last areas in America that were opened to homesteading where you could acquire title to 160 acres of land just by building a structure and cultivating a crop.

That might sound easy enough until you consider there were no roads, no electricity and no diesel-powered heavy equipment to clear the massive stumps so you could build a structure and plant a crop.

All supplies had to be backpacked across 20-some miles of muddy trail from Forks or canoed up the river in a laborious process during which you stood in the stern of the canoe and pushed yourself and the cargo upriver with a long pole.

Only the tough survived the forest fires, hurricanes, droughts and floods that made life on the Hoh River a battle for survival.

The sons and daughters of these pioneers still live on the land their ancestors homesteaded.

They remember the land-grabbing national park’s removal of homesteaders on the Queets River to the south, where every legal stratagem available to the federal government was used against its own citizens.

Fear of another government land grab is a way of life on the Hoh River, so it was only natural that when the Hoh River Trust showed up, nobody trusted it.

Trust is a funny word.

According to Webster’s dictionary, it means a reliance on the integrity of a person or thing.

The Hoh River Trust worked hard to develop trust with the locals, and I, like an idiot, helped it.

I supported the Hoh River Trust because it preserved public access to the Hoh River, a river that was in danger of being carved up, subdivided and locked up.

Here in Washington state, it has become a common practice for the various government agencies to make people buy a permit to be on their own public land.

Recently, private timber companies started charging money and demanding permits to be on their land.

The Hoh River Trust was the only landowner that didn’t require a permit.

The Hoh River Trust said it was going to restore the majestic old-growth forests and the mighty runs of salmon and steelhead on the Hoh River.

Nobody was sure just how these noble goals would be realized.

We were asked to just trust the Hoh River Trust.

Sixteen years later, the Hoh River salmon and steelhead are more endangered than ever.

Last year, the Hoh was shut down all summer and throughout most of the fall salmon run.

As of now, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife refuses to say just when the Hoh River will open for fishing.

The Hoh River Trust’s timber management was another money-sucking failure that was offered as an excuse to give it all to The Nature Conservancy.

The Nature Conservancy announced the transfer — after the fact — during a panel presentation at a May 17 public meeting at the Rainforest Arts Center in Forks.

There were no announced public meetings on the transaction, and no public comment period, either.

Clallam County Commissioner Bill Peach asked a conservancy representative if the organization was going to sell the land to Olympic National Park.

The man said no.

I guess we’ll just have to trust him.


Pat Neal is a fishing guide and “wilderness gossip columnist” whose column appears here every Wednesday.

He can be reached at 360-683-9867 or by email via patnealwild [email protected]