CONSERVATION — Although the discussion on the state's wolf plan caught most of the attention last week, the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission also made a major land acquisition after years of support and negotiations facilitated by The Nature Conservancy and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.
The purchase of 7,711 acres of wildlife habitat in Kittitas County is another testament to the benefits of the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program that was proposed for huge cuts in last year's legislative session.
This purchase concludes the second phase of the “Heart of the Cascades” project that adds over 10,000 acres to WDFW’s 47,200-acre Oak Creek Wildlife Area. The plan helps “block up” public land to protect big game habitat from winter ranges all the way up to summer ranges.
- Click on the video above to see a two-minute clip that explains the Heart of the Cascades Project.
Last year, 2,675 acres were acquired in the Bald Mountain/Rock Creek area, about 25 miles northwest of Yakima on the east slope of the Cascade Mountains. This year’s acquisition involves purchase of 3,807 acres from The Nature Conservancy (TNC) for $2,325,000 and 3,904 acres from Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (RMEF) for $2,317,000.
Funding for the new acquisition comes from the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, through a Habitat Conservation Plan grant.
Ranging from 2,500 to 6,000 feet in elevation, the property has a wide diversity of habitats, including coniferous forests, basalt cliffs, shrub-steppe and riparian areas. It supports many federal- and state-protected species, including spotted owls, bull trout and steelhead, as well as many game species, including elk, bighorn sheep and mountain goats.
The property will be managed with support from TNC, RMEF and the Tapash Sustainable Forest Collaborative—a coalition of public, non-profit and tribal land managers—to share the estimated $123,500 annual operation and maintenance costs.