The Nature Conservancy, working with partners, has just completed a four-year project to protect public access and wildlife habitat on more than 10,000 acres of forest in the heart of the Cascade Mountains, about 20 miles southeast of Ellensburg.
This forestland is some of the most rich and diverse in the western United States. Alpine trees give way to Douglas-firs and vast stretches of ponderosa pine. Rocky Mountain elk, bighorn sheep and mountain goats mingle in meadows near ancient lava cliffs. Bull trout, cutthroat and steelhead dart through clear, cold streams. Rattlesnakes slither between flowers while golden eagles soar overhead. Ground squirrels and jays watch for opportunities to snatch food from picnickers, hikers and campers.
Thanks to generous gifts by people like you, The Nature Conservancy has ensured that wildlife and people will be able to wander these mountains and forests for generations to come.
Generations of people have hiked and camped and hunted and fished here. But public access and good management of the forest was threatened by complex ownership patterns, a legacy of 19th century land grants. This forest had been broken in to a checkerboard –one square mile owned by timber companies, next to one square mile owned by the U.S. Forest Service.
The checkerboard pattern of land ownership is common through the West and emerged in the 1800s as a result of land grants to encourage westward expansion. In recent years, changes in the timber industry have spurred those companies to begin selling off the checkerboard properties. Second homes in the midst of the forest would cut off trails used by people, elk and other wildlife, and make large-scale forest restoration work impossible.
Here, The Nature Conservancy and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation partnered to purchase the land from Plum Creek and transfer it to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, where it will be managed as part of the Oak Creek Wildlife Area. The land is also part of a larger landscape, the Tapash Sustainable Forest Collaborative, where WDFW, the Forest Service, the Conservancy, RMEF, the state Department of Natural Resources, the Yakama Nation and other public land managers are working together to restore forest health.
The Heart of the Cascades project is the second in a series of projects to make it possible to restore the millions of acres of East Cascades forests, from Oregon to Canada. The first such project, the Tieton, is about 25 miles south of this in the mountains above the Tieton River. Restoration work is now underway following the successful land transfers completed in 2008.
The work here with partners will leave a legacy of vast forests and all they provide: abundant wildlife, clean water, jobs in the woods and plentiful traditional harvests.