OLYMPIA—An environmental review of proposed livestock grazing on Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) lands in the Wild Horse Coordinated Resource Management (CRM) area of Kittitas County will be expanded to include other WDFW holdings in the CRM.
Last April, WDFW began an environmental review of proposed grazing on 8,418 acres of the Whiskey Dick Wildlife Area. Since then, the department acquired an additional 9,432 acres within the CRM area last October and more work has been done on a coordinated approach to managing lands within the CRM area.
Because of these changes, the department will withdraw its existing proposal to graze the 8,418-acre Whiskey Dick area, pending a broader environmental review of other WDFW lands within the CRM. The new review under the state Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) will begin this spring.
“The new land acquisitions and evolution of the CRM process persuaded us to broaden the scope of our environmental review beyond that envisioned within the earlier SEPA proposal,” said Jeff Tayer, director of WDFW’s south-central regional office.
“We’d like to take a unified look at our grazing options on WDFW holdings within the entire CRM,” Tayer said.
The department now owns more than 34,000 acres within the CRM. Other property owners in the CRM are the state Department of Natural Resources, the federal Bureau of Land Management and Puget Sound Energy. The Wild Horse CRM approach is a volunteer effort that coordinates land management activities involving 62,000 acres and multiple landowners. Under the Ecosystems Standards Act adopted by the 1993 state Legislature, development of such CRM efforts is encouraged where multiple ownerships and practices are involved.
While the broader environmental review is under way, the WDFW will continue to permit limited livestock grazing this spring on up to five department-owned pastures within the CRM where grazing has occurred in recent years.
This year’s grazing will be lighter than traditional grazing practices, with shorter grazing periods, smaller numbers of cattle and some stream protection and fencing to direct livestock away from sensitive areas, Tayer said.
Although grazing on wildlife lands has been controversial, Tayer noted that such grazing meets ecosystem standards consistent with recovery needs for native sage grouse, a species listed for state protection. The department’s Sage Grouse Recovery Plan (http://wdfw.wa.gov/conservation/research/projects/grouse/greater_sage-grouse/index.htm) calls for WDFW to acquire key sage grouse habitat where possible and to manage grazing cooperatively with other landowners through the CRM process.
Working in partnership with private landowners is essential to maintaining shrub-steppe lands for fish and wildlife that otherwise could be lost to the development which has already consumed two-thirds of the state’s native shrub-steppe, Tayer said.
“By purchasing open space from willing private landowners and then working in partnership with other land owners, we can conserve this scarce resource and grow habitat, not houses,” said WDFW Director Jeff Koenings. “Competing with ranchers over scarce shrub-steppe habitat polarizes communities and leads to inaction. Working within the CRM process helps build partnerships, avoid unnecessary frustration and promote action where all partners benefit.”