Canyon parcels bought —

Canyon parcels bought

Anna King, © Tri-City Herald, Jan. 31, 2005

By Anna King, staff writer for the Tri-City Herald
January 31, 2005
The Nature Conservancy of Washington announced last week the purchase of an additional 2,000 acres in the Tieton River Canyon from Plum Creek Timber Co.

The move represents an ongoing effort to preserve a unique ecosystem that ranges from shrub steppe to Cascade rain forest. The purchase marks the halfway point for the campaign to protect more than 10,000 acres of former timber land in the canyon 20 miles west of Yakima.

"It's a very compelling landscape, and we have a lot of great partners who are advocating on its behalf," said Leslie Brown, Seattle-based spokeswoman for the conservancy group.

The nonprofit has secured 5,270 acres.

The canyon, just west of Highway 12, looks seamless to passers-by. But its 20,000 acres of mostly untouched wilderness is owned in an almost checkerboard pattern by public and private interests. Animals and outdoor recreationalists often cross the invisible property lines, not realizing the land's ownership mix.

The Nature Conservancy of Washington preserves the rugged wilderness by putting it into public hands.

But the Tieton Canyon purchase almost didn't happen. Plum Creek Timber Co. had decided to sell the lands, most destined for logging and development.

Douglas Corpron of Yakima said the loss would have been great.

"It would have closed the whole area to public use," he said. "That would have been huge. It's just a remarkable area that would have gone away."
Corpron, 75, describes himself as an old-timer, but he often treks the Tieton with a group of fellow senior citizen hikers who call themselves the Highlanders.

The Nature Conservancy's plan could be a boost to the area, he said. "I want people to recognize what a big deal this is for Yakima. We've never had anything done on this magnitude in our area before."

The Nature Conservancy plans to turn its newly acquired lands over to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to be included in the state-owned and -managed Oak Creek Wildlife Area.

Money the nonprofit receives from the state will be used to purchase additional property in the canyon, Brown said.

Conservancy officials said many supporters, including the Yakima County Commission, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and other regional conservation groups have helped the project raise more than $3 million from state and federal sources. Several private individuals also have supported the campaign.

The conservation group hopes to get about $2.5 million from state legislators this year through the state's Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program, which helps put privately held lands back into public ownership, Brown said.

"It's got that momentum now," she said.

The project ran into one snag when officials learned that Plum Creek didn't own the mineral rights to the property. Without complete ownership of land rights, the land couldn't become part of the National Forest system as originally intended. It instead will remain managed to the state Department of Fish and Wildlife. Brown said she believes it's unlikely anybody will seek to exploit the land's mineral rights.

The Tieton is considered important by the Nature Conservancy and supporters because of its diversity. The region boasts several rare and imperiled species, including golden eagles, bighorn sheep, spotted owls, pine martens and river otters. The canyon also is used by Rocky Mountain elk on their migration route from wintering grounds near the river to their summer highlands.

The conservancy hopes to complete buying the remaining land within about two years, said Betsy Bloomfield, an area manager for the nonprofit.

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