Groups, agencies protect key habitat near Yakima

A partnership of conservation groups and state agencies have worked together to protect almost 2,900 acres of key wildlife habitat near Yakima.

The state departments of Fish and Wildlife, and Ecology, as well as the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and Cowiche Canyon Conservancy have secured 2,893 acres in two parcels 15 miles northwest of the city.

The two parcels provide habitat for a variety of wildlife and serve as a connection between summer and winter range for the Yakima elk herd. An estimated 2,800 elk migrate across the area, according to the elk foundation. It also is home to mule deer and bighorn sheep. The land also has been used for grazing during the last 100 years.

The properties will be managed as part of the Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Oak Creek Wildlife Area.

The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation negotiated the deal with the landowner and paid half the cost of the land appraisal. The Cowiche Canyon Conservancy paid the other half of the appraisal and will manage the grazing on the property through a grazing easement.

The cost of the acquisition from the Tieton Cattle Association was $1.55 million. The Department of Ecology and the Kennewick Irrigation District provided funds to mitigate lost of shrub-steppe habitat that has been converted to agricultural land. Funds also came from the Yakima Basin Integrated Plan.

“Conservation of key fish and wildlife habitat and securing public access are top priorities for the department and working with our partners is essential to achieving those goals,” Mike Livingston, Department of Fish and Wildlife southcentral regional director, said in a department news release.

“We need to recognize and thank the private owners, the Tieton Cattle Association, which kept the native grasses and forbs in great condition while grazing their cattle on this same land during the summer,” Blake Henning, foundation vice president of lands and conservation, said in the release.

“It's not often you get to protect nearly 3,000 acres of habitat and also protect a sustainable historic grazing operation that produces locally sourced grass-fed beef, “ Betsy Bloomfield, executive director of the conservancy, said in the release.

“It’s gratifying that the Yakima Basin Integrated Plan partners are so focused on implementing the plan and are bringing outside resources to achieve our goals,” said Derek Sandison, the ecology department’s director of the Office of Columbia River.