SPOKANE – The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission approved acquisition of 7,711 acres of wildlife habitat in Kittitas County and amended rules on importation of harvested game at a meeting here today.
The citizen commission, which sets policy for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), approved the acquisition as the second phase of the “Heart of the Cascades” project that adds over 10,000 acres to WDFW’s 47,200-acre Oak Creek Wildlife Area.
Last year, 2,675 acres were acquired in the Bald Mountain/Rock Creek area, about 25 miles northwest of Yakima on the east slope of the Cascade Mountains. This year’s acquisition involves purchase of 3,807 acres from The Nature Conservancy (TNC) for $2,325,000 and 3,904 acres from Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (RMEF) for $2,317,000.
Funding for the new acquisition comes from the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, through a Habitat Conservation Plan grant.
Ranging from 2,500 to 6,000 feet in elevation, the property has a wide diversity of habitats, including coniferous forests, basalt cliffs, shrub-steppe and riparian areas. It supports many federal- and state-protected species, including spotted owls, bull trout and steelhead, as well as many game species, including elk, bighorn sheep and mountain goats.
The property will be managed with support from TNC, RMEF and the Tapash Sustainable Forest Collaborative—a coalition of public, non-profit and tribal land managers—to share the estimated $123,500 annual operation and maintenance costs.
In other action, the commission amended existing restrictions on the importation of harvested deer, elk and moose from states where chronic wasting disease (CWD) has been confirmed. Maryland and Minnesota were added to the list of 13 states and two Canadian provinces where CWD has been confirmed in wild populations. Deer, elk or moose carcasses from those states can only be brought into Washington as boned-out meat, with all soft tissue removed from skulls and antlers, and hides or capes without heads attached. Rules are detailed in Washington Administrative Code 232-12-021.
In addition, the commission heard a briefing on how WDFW monitors deer and elk herds and how the department responds if a herd decline is detected. The commission also was briefed on the revised structure and function of the agency’s Habitat Program.
During a Nov. 3 special meeting, the commission held a work session on WDFW’s recommended Wolf Conservation and Management Plan, and took comments from more than 65 people. The session was the fourth and final public review of the plan by the commission since August.
The plan was developed over the last four years with the help of a 17-member citizen advisory group and has undergone extensive public review. It is designed to guide both recovery of a sustainable population and conflict management of gray wolves, which are returning on their own to Washington. The gray wolf is protected by the state as an endangered species across Washington and is also federally protected under the Endangered Species Act in the western two-thirds of Washington.
The plan is available online at http://wdfw.wa.gov/conservation/gray_wolf/. The final written comment deadline is Nov.18. The commission is scheduled to take action on the plan at its Dec. 2-3 meeting in Olympia.