MISSOULA, Mont.—Several partners including the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation have completed a 2,675-acre first phase of a three-year project to protect wildlife habitat and public access in the Cascade Mountains near the Naches River in Washington.
By 2011, the entire project will transfer more than 10,000 acres in Kittitas County from Plum Creek Timber Co. to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).
First-phase partners included The Nature Conservancy, Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, WDFW and RMEF. A broad coalition, including the Kittitas County Commissioners, Yakama Nation, U.S. Forest Service and Washington Department of Natural Resources, supported the project.
“We’re proud to be a part of this unique partnership that is generating permanent benefits for wildlife and sportsmen. The first phase of this project has moved a significant piece of critical elk range and calving grounds into public ownership,” said David Allen, president and CEO of the Elk Foundation.
Habitat includes alpine areas home to mountain goats, shrub-steppe and basalt cliffs for elk, mule deer and bighorn sheep, and streams used by bull, cutthroat and rainbow trout as well as salmon. The diverse landscape hosts a wide variety of other species including several classified as sensitive or threatened.
The area, called Rock Creek, also is a popular recreation and scenic destination.
The newly protected lands were listed for sale and on the open market. The area has a checkerboard ownership pattern with private sections interspersed with tracts owned by the Wenatchee National Forest. Piecemeal purchases by small timber operations or rural residential developers could have compromised wildlife values as well as public access.
“Consolidating this checkerboard has been a top priority for us,” said WDFW south-central regional director Jeff Tayer. “Without this acquisition, the property could end up in fragmented ownerships limiting recreational access and the ability to use prescribed fire and tree thinning to reduce the risk of wildfire, disease and insect outbreaks. Our partners at The Nature Conservancy and Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation made this happen.”
“By bringing this area into public ownership, we’ll be able to work together to maintain a healthy forest landscape, to lower the danger of catastrophic wildfire, and preserve habitat for the wildlife we all love,” said Karen Anderson, state director for The Nature Conservancy.
“This region provides both crucial wildlife habitat and unique opportunities for outdoor recreation. WWRP funds will preserve this land, benefiting both people and the environment,” said Joanna Grist, executive director of the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Coalition.
“Plum Creek recognizes the public benefits of this project and is pleased to participate in the partnership that achieved this important outcome,” said Rick Holley, president and chief executive officer, Plum Creek.
The purchase price of $3.27 million was provided in grants from the state Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program ($1.8 million) and from a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service fund designed to protect habitat for endangered species ($1.47 million).
The newly protected lands are north of the Naches River and northwest of the town of Naches, reachable by Bald Mountain, Rock Creek and Milk Lake roads. The area will be managed as part of WDFW’s Oak Creek Wildlife Area.
About the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation:
Snowy peaks, dark timber basins and grassy meadows. RMEF is leading an elk country initiative that has conserved or enhanced habitat on over 5.6 million acres—a land area equivalent to a swath three miles wide and stretching along the entire Continental Divide from Canada to Mexico. RMEF also works to open, secure and improve public access for hunting, fishing and other recreation. Get involved at www.rmef.org or 800-CALL ELK.