Olympia - Eastern Washington ranchers who lost grazing land as a result of the devastating wildfires in eastern Washington will be offered some help from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).
As part of its good neighbor policy, WDFW will make its own lands available where possible to ranchers affected by wildfires in Chelan, Okanogan and Yakima counties, three counties hardest hit by the blazes and recently declared an emergency by Governor Gary Locke.
"This offer by the Department to make some of our lands available certainly can't make up for the extreme hardships experienced by some ranchers in these counties," said WDFW Director Jeff Koenings. "But as their neighbor, we feel it's our obligation to do whatever we can, as soon as we can, to extend a helping hand."
Mark Quinn, who oversees WDFW's lands program, said some criteria will be required by ranchers. For example, preference will be given to ranchers whose burned grazing lands are closest to available WDFW lands, and those ranchers enrolled in WDFW's hunter access program. If used for grazing some land may require temporary fencing to protect riparian areas or keep cattle in certain areas.
However, it is the Department's goal is to make the land available as quickly as possible to ranchers, Quinn said. Initially, the land will be offered for two weeks, with the possibility of extensions up to six weeks. Normal grazing fees will be charged, and all livestock must be removed from WDFW land prior to the start of the general deer season on October 13.
Quinn added that the emergency grazing will not significantly affect wildlife or wildlife habitat since the grazing will occur on grass that is mostly dormant. Prior to allowing the land to be used for grazing, WDFW will conduct an environmental assessment as required under state law.
For complete details, ranchers in Okanogan and Chelan counties should contact Matt Monda in Ephrata at (509) 754-4624, ext. 16. In Yakima County, ranchers should contact Lee Stream at (509) 575-2740, ext. 313.