ASOTIN CREEK, Wash. – Betty Koch didn’t want to move from rainy southeast Alaska to the hot and arid climate of southeastern Washington.
But it was her late husband Frank Koch’s dream to ranch after retiring from a career as a commercial fisherman.
“When we were thinking about retiring, Frank told me, ‘I want to go someplace where I can spit and raise dust.’ ”
They bought a place at the confluence of Charley Fork and Asotin Creek and raised cattle and horses. She fell in love with the country during their first winter and still lives in a remote home here.
But she worried of late that she wasn’t able to take care of the land and negotiated with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to sell much of the property. Last week, the state Fish and Wildlife Commission approved a deal that will see 1,144 acres on Charley Creek, along with a short section on Asotin Creek, become public land.
Under state ownership it will continue to provide habitat for threatened fish like wild steelhead and bull trout, as well as winter range to about 200 head of elk. It is also used by bighorn sheep, mule deer and upland game birds, such as chukars.
Hunters and other outdoor enthusiasts will have nonmotorized access to the property to be designated the Koch Segment of the Asotin Wildlife Area. A sign will be posted near the mouth of Charley Creek.
The acquisition brings total acreage in the state’s Blue Mountains Wildlife Area Complex to nearly 70,000 acres.
“I’m glad the place is going for something like this,” said Koch. “By putting a sign up, I’m doing him right.”
Steve Pozzanghera, WDFW Spokane region director, said the $624,500 to purchase the property comes mostly from a federal grant intended to be used to protect habitat critical to threatened and endangered species.
In 2011, the Rocky Mountain Elk Found and the WDFW joined in a successful funding application to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). The USFWS funding was about $10,000 short of the appraised value of the Koch ownership.
To facilitate the deal, RMEF, the Mule Deer Foundation and Inland Northwest Wildlife Council each chipped in equal amounts enabling WDFW to make up the $10,000 shortfall, said Brian Trickel, the agency’s regional real estate specialist.
“Had this property been sold into cabin sites, it would have had a serious impact on wintering mule deer, elk and bighorns,” said Rance Block of Liberty Lake, elk foundation director of lands.
The newly public land borders other land owned by the department as well as land managed by the Umatilla National Forest. There is a 160-acre parcel along the bottom of the drainage that belongs to another private landowner. The public will be able to walk on an old road through the private land to access the Koch segment.
Glen Mendel, district fish biologist, said Charley Creek is spring fed and stays cooler than most streams in the area. It is also part of a long-term watershed study and the department hopes to improve in-stream and riparian habitat to benefit the steelhead.
Koch will keep the family home as well as some land for Frank’s “babies.” She said he asked her on his death bed to look after his four horses and “keep ’em on my place until they die.”
Outdoors editor Rich Landers contributed to this story.