LEWISTON – The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife won’t pursue funding to purchase land in Asotin and Garfield counties because of opposition from county commissioners, state legislators and members of the Asotin Lands Committee.
In an email to Asotin County Commission Chairman Brian Shinn and others, Steve Pozzanghera, director of the department’s eastern region, said local opposition to the proposed purchases caused the agency to back off.
Pozzanghera noted there was support from hunting and fishing groups and individuals but also said county commissioners, landowners and state legislators expressed “significant concerns.”
“When we considered all of this input as well as the high level of effort it takes (the department) to acquire and properly maintain public lands in perpetuity, we have chosen to prioritize projects where our efforts are welcome,” Pozzanghera wrote. “Therefore, we will not pursue public ownership of the four proposed acquisitions in Asotin and Garfield counties.”
He called the pullback a “lost opportunity to protect natural resources, agricultural interests and public recreation access.”
“Given our mission to preserve, protect and perpetuate fish, wildlife and ecosystems while providing for public access, we’re concerned about the potential development of these lands. However, we are also committed to being responsive to local communities,” he said in the email.
Pozzanghera said purchase of the properties could be reconsidered in the future if the opposition changes, the land remains of strategic value to the agency and the current owners remain interested in selling.
The department was considering purchasing three properties in Asotin County, including 1,650 acres known as the Charlie Knight Ranch on Harlow Ridge, 643 acres at Green Gulch along lower Joseph Creek and 770 acres along the breaks of the Grande Ronde River that are part of the Four-O Ranch. It was also considering 720 acres near Grouse Flat in Garfield County. To do so, it was preparing to seek grant funding from the Washington Recreation and Conservation Office.
But local officials were opposed and cited the agency’s already large land base in southeastern Washington, its lukewarm commitment to retaining agriculture practices through grazing and farming leases on much of the land it already owns, and what they see as the agency’s failure to property management weeds and fire threats on its land. Shinn noted the agency is seeking supplemental funding from the 2020 Legislature and said it shouldn’t be looking to purchase more land if it doesn’t have enough money to “manage the lands you already own.”
Washington District 9 legislators Mark Schoesler, Mary Dye and Joe Schmick also opposed the proposed purchases.
“We are pleased,” Shinn said. “We appreciate the department paying attention to our requests and deciding not to move forward.”
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