Wednesday, April 9, 2014/lk
WITHROW Some Douglas County residents are growing concerned about state land acquisitions in their neck of the woods.
The Okanogan County Farm Bureau was invited to give a presentation last Thursday to detail the ongoing struggles regarding state and federal acquisitions under the auspices of preserving wildlife habitat.
President Jon Wyss said the meeting drew about 30 people – from Mansfield, Waterville, East Wenatchee, Wenatchee and other areas – all worried that the state Department of Fish and Wildlife might purchase 20,000 acres for claimed sage grouse protection.
A proposal on the Fish and Wildlife website outlines a current request for 4,100 acres in an area called Grand Coulee Ranch, southwest of Nespelem. The total project, which aims to preserve shrub steppe habitat and public access to recreation such as hunting and fishing, would involve 20,500 acres.
Betsy Irmer of Orondo, a member of the Douglas County Republican Party’s executive committee, contacted Wyss after she saw the project plans that showed a portion of her in-laws’ wheat land falls within the project boundaries.
The family hasn’t yet been contacted by the state, she said.
“I thought, ‘Uh-oh,’” she said. “That’s unacceptable.
“The farmers need to know what’s going on. Actually, everybody needs to know what’s going on.”
“Now, they’re all worried that their neighbor is going to be WDFW, and what are they going to do? They were just a little bit concerned,” Wyss said. “The overall message they had was tell us about it, educate us because we want to learn. But everyone I talked to on my way out the door was like, ‘We had no idea it was like this. No idea.’”
According to the Douglas County Assessor’s Office, Fish and Wildlife currently doesn’t own any land in the county.
Of a total 29,256 parcels, Douglas County and the federal government own 797. The federal government, primarily the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, owns a majority of that – 451 parcels, according to the Assessor’s Office.
Conversely, Okanogan County is already 72-75 percent government-owned, according to estimates.
“Douglas County is not like Okanogan; it’s mostly private,” Wyss said. “It’s not a lot, but they (Fish and Wildlife) would like to own the entire third of northern Douglas County.”
Wyss said his own property falls within the project’s borders.
“I can guarantee you I have no interest (in selling to the state),” he said. “You’d think they’d check that before they circled it. I’ve only been fighting them over it for five years.”
Wyss said he’s been asked to give another presentation in East Wenatchee, tentatively slated for May.
Meanwhile, Irmer is encouraging people to contact Douglas County commissioners – who were invited to last week’s meeting but did not attend – to “let them know we’re not happy with what’s going on.”
The land acquisitions issue may be spreading, too.
“Other counties are getting upset that these acquisitions are going on as well. We’re been at it for seven years, and they’re just starting,” Wyss said. “Nobody has taken the time to ask the questions, and now we are. And those questions are resonating with other counties enough that they want to find out more… and make decisions for their own county.”