If any good news came out of last week’s Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission, it’s that members approved acquiring 2,642 acres that will eventually provide new hunting opportunities on both sides of the state and improve access to a public clam and oyster beach on a South Coast bay.
The biggest land deal was for two parcels tallying 1,513 acres in far northern Douglas County that secures habitat for mule deer, sharptail grouse, pygmy rabbits and other shrub-steppe critters.
The rolling landscape about 5 miles west-northwest of Bridgeport features a mix of sagebrush, forested copses, range and farmed fields, and also links up to a larger area of federal ground in the Dougherty Canyon area on its west side.
Identified several years ago for acquisition through WDFW’s Lands 2020 process, the project had the support of Douglas County Commissioners and the ground will bulk up the Central Ferry Canyon Unit of the Wells Wildlife Area.
Funding for purchase of the Barclay Crane property for $538,000 comes from a US Fish and Wildlife Service endangered species grant.
Besides providing hunting opportunities, bird watchers will also benefit.
“This is sort of up over the hill from me and this is one of my favorite spots to go birding, and so I’m excited about this acquisition,” said Molly Linville, a southern Douglas County rancher and the commission’s acting chair at the time.
She also noted that the site was “very accessible” for fire suppression.
On the wetter side of the state, the commission OK’ed the first-phase acquisition of the Violet Prairie property, some 1,035 acres that will grow to a 1,567-acre subunit of the Scatter Creek Wildlife Area south of Olympia and just to the west of Tenino.
Also known as the alpaca ranch, it had been on the market nationally and was “at extreme risk of being sold for nonconservation purposes,” according to WDFW Real Estate Manager Karen Edwards, before the Conservation Fund stepped in and worked with Fay Ranches – full disclosure, a Northwest Sportsman advertiser – to buy and hold it last June while the agency rounded up the $7.8 million asking price.
That money will come from USFWS and state Recreation and Conservation Office endangered species grants, as the property hosts federally listed Mazama pocket gophers and Taylor’s checkerspot butterflies, along with rare Puget blue butterflies.
There’s also a small herd of elk, though the land won’t immediately be open for hunting, hiking, horseback riding or other uses until a recreation plan is figured out, according to Edwards.
Located pretty much where the Great Glacier ran out of gas during the last ice age, the land ranges from outwash plain with Mima Mound stippling to grassy sloped uplands to oak and Douglas fir woodlands and secluded ponds.
And the commission also purchased 94 acres on the east shore of Willapa Bay between Baycenter and Naselle. The parcel, which sits alongside Highway 101, will provide direct access to the middle of the 300-acre, 6 1/2-mile-long Nemah Tidelands, which MD Johnson wrote about in Northwest Sportsman last year.
Currently, clam and oyster gathers must park at Pickernell Creek and walk about half a mile or so past private tidelands and around a small headland to reach these public tidelands, “noted as some of the best in the state for hard shell clams,” according to WDFW.
“This is actually an area I’ve seen from the road on one of my tours down to Willapa and, you know, access in that area for tidelands and for clam and oyster use is not readily available, so this overall seems like a very important acquisition,” said Commissioner Jim Anderson of Buckley.
A conceptual site plan shows a gravel road coming in off the highway, with two small parking lots, one for 20 vehicles and the other with five spots, including an ADA-accessible slot, plus trail to the beach. WDFW will apply for development grant to build them.
The $564,000 for the property purchase came from an RCO recreational water access grant.
The commission also approved transferring WDFW’s portion of the Sultan boat launch at Sportsmen’s Park to the City of Sultan, which had requested it for ease of managing its adjacent park at the confluence of the Sultan and Skykomish Rivers.
Commissioner Kim Thorburn of Spokane moved to adopt the three acquisitions and one transfer and she was seconded by Anderson.
While the citizen panel infamously kiboshed the limited-entry 2022 spring bear season on a 5-4 vote the next day, members unanimously voted to move forward on the lands deals.