State making move for more land

As a resident of Tunk Valley, I believe I have very good neighbors.

They live miles from me and each other, but still help their neighbors with cattle, horses and farms. They keep each other informed of emergencies. In short, they take care of each other.

And while the state Department of Natural Resources and state Department of Fish and Wildlife manage some public lands in the valley, I don’t necessarily consider those state agencies good for the neighborhood.

For example, Natural Resources is generally responsible for fire protection in some of the valley, that is until a blaze involves somebody’s home or barn. I understand that’s a mandate of the agency, but it certainly doesn’t promote a neighborly feeling.

And in the valley, Fish and Wildlife has done little to improve the quality of life for valley residents, despite controlling about 1,399 acres.

So, when I read last week the state was looking at more land in Tunk Valley (and a couple other North-Central Washington locations), I cringed.

On the table this month is a proposal from Fish and Wildlife to acquire management rights to more land — 2,200 acres — in Tunk Valley.

The state agency is taking input through Jan. 31 on buying conservation easements from “select landowners” who have “expressed an interest.”

Interestingly, the agency didn’t release the names of those landowners, yet. Nor did it release how much of our money it intends to spend or the value of each of the easements. And the information released doesn’t directly identify the locations of the proposed easement purchases.

A map the agency released shows a generic “proposed conservation easements” area stretching several miles from the Tunk Creek Unit of the Scotch Creek Wildlife Area up Tunk Creek to the boundary of the Colville Indian Reservation.

The agency says it needs to control and protect the land from subdivision and redevelopment for sharp-tail grouse habitat.

Are you kidding me? Redevelopment in Tunk Valley? I can count the number of lived-in homes on my road on one hand.

And while much of the land has been subdivided already, a large percentage sits vacant with little-to-no-hope of development. Heck, many of the developed properties in the valley have been for sale for several years.

While a case may be made for conservation easements helping to protect farming and ranching areas, nothing released so far about this proposal is about farming or ranching.

It concerns me that none of the proponents for this project are farmers or ranchers.

So who is behind this proposal, you ask? According to state documents, it’s Conservation Northwest, the Okanogan Land Trust, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and a few state agencies and the Colville tribe.

The Tunk proposal isn’t the only one on the table for comment this month.

In our area, Fish and Wildlife is also targetting 20,500 acres near Grand Coulee’s Crown Point and 728 acres along the Kettle River in Ferry County.

For the record, the state wants permission this month to buy 2,100 acres of the 20,500 acres it calls “Grand Coulee Ranch.” It’s not talking about a conservation easement, but “acquisition.”

The Ferry County request is to buy two parcels on the Kettle River and obtain conservation easements for other areas.

The supporters for the Ferry County acquisition and easement project are Natural Resources, Conservation Northwest and Pilchuck Audubon. Again, no farmers or ranchers.

The state claims it needs to protect the areas from development.

But if you’ve driven up Toroda Creek Road, you’ll know there’s little development along the Kettle River.

The nearest communities — Curlew, Chesaw and Wauconda — aren’t exactly boomtowns with millions of dollars pouring in for development.

And if you’ve driven from Grand Coulee past Crown Point along the dirt road that eventually takes you to Leahy Junction, you’re probably already asking yourself, where’s the development?

Unfortunately, these proposals continue the disingenuous approach to land control the agency has exercised over the years. The only way to stop the continued assault on private property ownership in North-Central Washington is to oppose these and future acquisitions. You can do that by emailing your opposition to Lands@dfw.wa.gov.

Roger Harnack is the editor and publisher of The Chronicle. He can be reached at 509-826-1110 or via email at rharnack@omakchronicle.com.

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