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2013 outdoors: land acquired for conservation

Sun., Jan. 5, 2014

Wildlife and public access to wild lands in Washington got a boost in 2013 from a variety of private, local and state land acquisitions for conservation and wildlife values.

The impressive one-year list includes four major additions to lands managed by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife:

• L.T. Murray Wildlife Area addition of 5,497 acres northwest of Yakima.

• Wenas Wildlife Area addition of a 589-acre inholding near the state’s winter feeding area for elk.

• Asotin Creek Wildlife Area addition of a 1,255-acre Thornton Ranch on Charley Creek adjoining the 1,145-acre Koch Ranch purchased in 2012.

• Chief Joseph Wildlife area addition of 2,639 acres (to close this month) will complete the third of six proposed multiyear phases in acquiring a total of 12,000 acres involving the 4-0 Ranch along the Grande Ronde River.

Since 1939, Washington officials have sought to preserve habitat for fish and wildlife by acquiring key areas for public ownership to avoid development that excludes wildlife. In 2014, the state is managing nearly a million acres in 33 wildlife areas.

Washington’s first “community forest” was created in a land deal involving the state’s Natural Resources and Fish and Wildlife agencies and Forterra. The state paid $97 million for 50,272 acres in the headwaters of the Yakima Basin watershed in its largest single land transaction in 45 years.

The area, with benefits ranging from the watershed’s importance to irrigators to the outdoor recreation opportunities, is called the Teanaway Community Forest.

Spokane County Conservation Futures program acquired three new parcels in 2013:

• 906-acre Mica Peak Conservation Area.

• 10-acre access on Lincoln Road for the Antoine Peak Conservation Area.

• 15-acre site of classic Ice Age Floods geology near Williams Lake.

Since a voter-approved property tax was enacted in 1994, the program has preserved 7,281 acres for public access and open space through 40 acquisitions.

Nonprofit groups such as The Nature Conservancy have acquired or preserved thousands of acres.

Also, the Inland Northwest Land Trust, founded in Spokane in 1991, closed on two agreements in December to hit the milestone of more than 15,000 acres of private land preserved in conservation easements on 47 properties.

“I like to think of it as conservation sprawl,” said Chris DeForest, executive director. “It’s a small way to try and balance the not-so-desirable type of sprawl. A conservation easement is a permanent decision, but so is subdivision and development.”

The 2013 agreements on the Priest River and Hangman Creek brought the trust’s land protection status to 34 miles of river and lake shores in the region, not counting the intermittent streams.

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