The first step in a major campaign to conserve more than 10,000 acres of ecologically rich forestland in the Naches River region has been taken, with the purchase of2,675 acres from Plum Creek.Located on the southern edge of Kittitas County within the Wenatchee National Forest, the land will be transferred to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).
The Nature Conservancy and Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation worked with WDFW to obtain the funding and facilitate the transaction.
The Rock Creek property has been and will continue to be open for public recreation, and will be managed as part of WDFW’s Oak Creek Wildlife Area. It lies north of the Naches River and northwest of the town of Naches and is reached by the Bald Mountain, Rock Creek and Milk Lake roads.
The property is crossed by several streams that support native fish such as cutthroat, rainbow and bull trout.The area includes high country where mountain goats roam as well as basalt cliffs and canyons, forests, and shrub-steppe used by elk, mule deer, and bighorn sheep. It’s prime territory for a myriad of bird species including the northern spotted owl.
Plum Creek and the U.S. Forest Service own alternating square miles within the region, a checkerboard-ownership pattern that has been a bane to both private and public land managers. This purchase is the first of three planned acquisitions to complete the project. The alternating squares in the checkerboard will remain in the ownership of the U.S. Forest Service, bringing the total public ownership in the area to more than 20,000 acres.
“Consolidating this checkerboard has been a top priority for us,” said WDFW southcentral regional director Jeff Tayer. “Without this acquisition the property could end up in fragmented ownerships limiting recreational access and the ability to use prescribed fire and tree thinning to reduce the risk of wildfire, disease, and insect outbreaks. Our partners at The Nature Conservancy and Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation made this happen. The support of the Kittitas County Commissioners was also critical to the success of this effort.”
The purchase price of $3.27 million was provided in grants from the state Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program ($1.8 million) and from a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service fund designed to protect habitat for endangered species ($1.47 million). The project is supported by a broad coalition, including the Kittitas County Commissioners, the Yakama Nation, U.S. Forest Service and Washington Department of Natural Resources.
“By bringing this area into public ownership, we’ll be able to work together to maintain a healthy forest landscape, to lower the danger of catastrophic wildfire, and preserve habitat for the wildlife we all love,” said Karen Anderson, state director for The Nature Conservancy.
“This habitat is used extensively as winter range by elk and mule deer, and it’s a popular recreation and scenic area. We’re pleased to help permanently protect wildlife values as well as public access,” said David Allen, president and chief executive officer of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.
“Plum Creek recognizes the public benefits of this project and is pleased to participate in the partnership that achieved this important outcome,” said Rick Holley, president and chief executive officer, Plum Creek.
“This region provides both crucial wildlife habitat and unique opportunities for outdoor recreation. WWRP funds will preserve this land, benefiting both people and the environment,” said Joanna Grist, executive director of the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Coalition.
The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at www.nature.org.
(206) 343-4345, ext 338