SIXGUNS AND SHARPTAILS: WDFW begins buying historic Douglas Co. ranch
Washington wildlife managers have pulled the trigger on buying a real slice of the Wild West.
Not only will the 20,000 acres of a Douglas County ranch provide public deer and upland bird hunting and fishing access as well as sharp-tailed grouse habitat, but it was the site of a gunfight in 1895.
“‘Wild Goose’ Bill Condon, aka Wilbur Condit, and another guy got in a shootout over a woman and killed each other at an old ranch site there,” notes regional WDFW manager and local historian Jim Brown.
“The property has over 14 miles of frontage on the Columbia River and contains unique characteristics of basalt cliffs and low buttes that overlook the river, gently rolling hills, steep riparian draws and aspen stands, and rugged slopes filled with ponderosa pine that reach down to the river’s edge. It provides significant shrub steppe habitat occupied by Columbian sharp-tailed grouse,” reported the agency’s new real estate division manager Julie Sandberg.
Brown says not only will the “great acquisition” provide open hunting lands in an area with little public access, but there’s the potential to open a new boat ramp to get at Lake Rufus Woods’ big triploids and walleye.
While currently being used for cattle ranching and some irrigated crops, the ranch also has one of the largest sharp-tailed grouse dancehalls, known as leks, in the region.
In recent years the agency has been working to bolster the state’s population of sharp-tails, once the most numerous game bird in Eastern Washington, but now listed as a state threatened species. With the conversion of large swaths of the Columbia Basin, Palouse and other regions to farming, their habitat diminished.
With at least seven translocations of sharptails from outside the state since 2005, Washington’s population was estimated at 800 of the birds in 2011. They grow to about 2 pounds, half the size of their nearly equally as rare cousins, sage grouse. After a 20-year hiatus, limited hunting seasons occurred from 1954 to 1987, but haven’t been open since.
The acquisition will eventually be even larger than the 4-0 Ranch in Asotin County, but these buys can be contentious propositions in Eastern Washington, where counties keep a sharp eye on property tax revenues.
In this case, however, Douglas County commissioners went on the record in support of the state’s plans, according to an article in theWenatchee World this spring.Reported KC Mahaffey:
Commissioners Steve Jenkins and Dale Snyder say they understand why land acquisition is an issue in Okanogan County. “But we’re totally different than Okanogan County — just the opposite,” said Jenkins. “We’re losing all our land to people who are buying it privately and locking it off to the public. We need some areas in Douglas County that are open to the public,” he said.
The article states that support hinged on the land remaining open to grazing. WDFW reports that PILT, or payment in lieu of taxes, amounts to $4,200; annual upkeep tallies around $33,600.
Funding came from the state capital budget through a grant from the Washington Wildlife & Recreation Program; the plan is to buy the rest as money becomes available.
The Washington Wildlife & Recreation Coalition termed it a “unique opportunity to acquire a large intact landscape from a willing seller and secure an important link between significant wildlife habitats.”
The ranch was called “awesome country” by one sportsman on Hunting Washington who’d walked it.