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State expands wildlife lands in Asotin County

Sun., Oct. 13, 2013

The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission has authorized the purchase of a 1,255-acre ranch in Asotin County in a long-term effort to restore habitat for steelhead and bull trout, as well as conserving habitat for big game and providing access to sportsmen.

The land won’t be open to public access until the deal is completed.

The $690,000 Thornton acquisition on Charley Creek will join the 1,145-acre Koch Ranch purchased by the state for $624,500 in 2012.

The state will pay Asotin County $1,250 a year in lieu of property taxes for the Thornton Ranch after it is acquired, said Phil Anderson, Fish and Wildlife Department director.

Asotin County is receiving $36,123 for the 35,684 acres the agency owns in the county.

The two ranches are about 15 miles southwest of Asotin. They are considered important additions to the Asotin Creek Wildlife Area, securing winter range for bighorn sheep, around 200 elk and habitat for a variety of other wildlife including mule deer and upland birds.

The acquisitions are funded by a mix of state and federal grants for protecting endangered species, with additional support from sportsmen’s groups, state officials said.

The Thornton acquisition, bordered mostly by public land, will expand the state’s Blue Mountains Wildlife Area Complex to more than 70,000 acres, including land in Columbia County.

Although livestock grazing is likely to continue, it will be scaled back as brush and trees are restored along the creek to provide cooler, cleaner water for the fisheries, biologists say.

Glen Mendel, district fish biologist, said Charley Creek is spring-fed and stays cooler than most streams in the area.

Securing winter range by purchase or agreements is crucial to maintaining or growing Blue Mountains elk herds, said Paul Wik, state wildlife biologist.

Elsewhere in Asotin County, two other major purchases of the 4-0 Ranch, totaling 3,714 acres in the past two years, have secured prime wildlife habitat along the Grande Ronde River.

Fish and Wildlife officials have a multiyear plan to purchase the entire 4-0 ranch, adding 12,000 acres to the Chief Joseph Wildlife Area portion of the Blue Mountains Complex.

The commission has approved the plan, but commissioner Jay Holzmiller of Anatone has opposed the state land purchases.

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