MISSOULA, Mont.—With deadlines looming and a vital section of elk and deer habitat hanging in the balance, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation helped the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) complete a new land acquisition project in record time.
The acquisition permanently protects from subdivision and ensures seasonal public access on a 642-acre parcel called Sanford Meadows on the east range of the Cascades about 18 miles northwest of Yakima, Wash. Sanford Meadows is part of a wintering area for as many as 250 elk and 800 mule deer.
“If this parcel had been sold for development, the resulting disturbances from traffic and year-round human presence would have had a devastating effect on wintering wildlife not only on this parcel, but also on adjoining public lands,” said Rance Block, project leader for the Elk Foundation.
WDFW sought help from the Elk Foundation because federal acquisition funds were available for too short a time period for the state to complete the deal by itself.
“Land acquisitions can often take a year or more, said Block, “so I can’t overstate the accomplishment of completing this project in an unprecedented 120 days. It shows how an organization like ours can be a real catalyst in conservation today.”
Funding for the project came from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Washington State Recreation and Conservation Office.
Block said, “All the parties involved, including the former landowners who understood and appreciated the wildlife values of the property, worked together through an intense schedule, satisfying the steps necessary to secure funding before the federal timeline expired. It was a scramble, but we all agreed that this project was too important to fail.”
Now managed by WDFW as part of its Oak Creek Wildlife Area, the property features mostly south-facing slopes ranging in elevation from 2,800 to 3,900 feet. Sagebrush, bitterbrush, Ponderosa pine, Douglas fir and a variety of grasses are abundant, making it ideal winter range for elk and mule deer.
WDFW annual aerial surveys show the general area is heavily used by elk and has one of the highest concentrations of mule deer in south-central Washington. The property also provides a portion of the home range for the Cleman Mountain bighorn sheep herd, and habitat for black bear, mountain lion, wild turkey, forest grouse, quail, chukar and other species. Uncommon birds such as the white-headed woodpecker and northern goshawk have been observed. Threatened bull trout also will benefit from the acquisition since the land drains into the Naches River, an important migratory channel for the species.
The parcel is surrounded by the Wenatchee National Forest and lands owned by WDFW and the Washington Department of Natural Resources.
About the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation
Snowy peaks, dark timber basins and grassy meadows. RMEF is leading an elk country initiative that has already conserved or enhanced habitat on over 5.4 million acres—a land area equivalent to a swath three miles wide and stretching along the entire Continental Divide from Canada to Mexico. Most work occurs on public lands. More than 570,000 acres have been opened or secured for public access including hunting, fishing and other recreation. Get involved at www.rmef.org or 800-CALL ELK.