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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
Sports >  Outdoors

Garfield County dump eyed for pheasant farm to seed fields

Pen-raised pheasants, such as this still-developing young rooster, are sometimes used to stock fields for hunting. (Rich Landers / The Spokesman-Review)
Pen-raised pheasants, such as this still-developing young rooster, are sometimes used to stock fields for hunting. (Rich Landers / The Spokesman-Review)
By Eric Barker Lewiston Tribune

POMEROY – A wind-swept spot not far from here that once served as Garfield County’s dump could soon teem with pheasants and other upland game birds.

At the moment, the old landfill that was put to bed 20 years ago doesn’t look like prime habitat. But the 12-acre plot surrounded by a high fence is starting to show the first hints of what county officials hope is a bright and birdy future.

Recently planted wheat and native grasses are sprouting from the hard clay soil that serves as a cap for the landfill. A building with power and water that once served as part of the operation is being converted into a brooder house, where hens and roosters will be raised from chicks to adults.

The young birds – as many as 800 to start – will spend six weeks in the building and then two months in net pens that are 100 feet wide by 300 feet long. From there, the birds will be released onto the larger site and allowed to disperse to neighboring farmland and nearby canyons, much of which is owned by the Washington Department of Natural Resources.

According to the vision, the pen-raised birds not only will be pursued by hunters, but some will survive to breed in the wild and boost wild bird numbers. They also will be released at various places in the county.

In the long run, county officials hope a volunteer board will take over management of the project and it can be used as an educational opportunity for local school kids. They also hope it sparks a resurgence of the good old days of bird hunting.

Grant Morgan, director of the county Public Works Department, said bird hunting in the 1970s and 1980s “was awesome.”

“It was a big economic driver here. A lot of people came to our community to hunt,” Morgan said.

The idea was born out of necessity. The county retired the landfill in 1996 and was required to monitor the site for two decades. Wells were drilled to keep tabs on water quality, gasses like methane were monitored and the site was examined for settling. County officials also had to come up with a post-closure plan for the land. Because of its former use as a dumping ground and its clay cap, it’s not suited for agriculture.

Morgan said testing hasn’t revealed problems with toxic contaminants or unexpected settling or shifting. Even so, he said, it’s not the kind of place that anyone would want to develop.

“The risk is low, but it’s just a no-no,” he said.

Rather than leaving the property idle and allowing it to grow wild with weeds, Morgan said county officials backed the plan to convert it to bird habitat. Grants from a fund meant to mitigate for wildlife habitat lost to wind farm development is helping pay for planting grasses and shrubs used by the birds, and the county is kicking in money for the brooder house, which was an add-on.

“Our primary thing is re-establishing habitat,” Morgan said. “The birds are kind of a secondary opportunity.”

The county is working with Jason Earl, a biologist at the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife stationed in Clarkston, to plan the habitat area and the brooder house. The state runs the Bob Oak Game Farm in Centralia and officials there are advising project leaders.

“I think it’s a great community project,” Earl said. “They are going to have high school kids working out there. I think it will be a neat project.”

Morgan said the pheasants will be banded and volunteers and the department will try to monitor any effect on local bird numbers.

The project will start with a single net pen and then add a second. Morgan said he’d like to add chukars and Hungarian partridge to the mix.

There are no birds at the site now, but Morgan is hopeful the brooder house and net pens can be finished in time for a late crop of birds this year.

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