OKANOGAN State officials say original online data that resulted in the creation of a hotly debated list of “interested landowners” for selling property or granting easements is there only to provide transparency.
Conservation Office Director Kaleen Cottingham was on hand last week during a meeting with Okanogan County commissioners to explain her agency’s side of the issue.
The Recreation and Conservation Office developed its Project Information System online database to provide full public disclosure of its grant funding process for projects across the state.
The Recreation and Conservation Office allows an “envelope” of potential properties in the immediate area of a project being sought, Cottingham said. So, in case a project falls through, an applicant such as the Department of Fish and Wildlife can move on to another potentially interested landowner within the envelope area.
“It was never intended to be their dream list of acquiring everything in that area. It was just if their top project fell through and they wanted to pick an alternate, it had to be in that area,” she said. “It was just for ease and transparency…. It was a means for us to administer a grant in a reasonable way.
“It’s a misnomer to say that they have grand plans of acquiring all those lands.”
The debate sparked when the Okanogan County Planning Department drafted a map and a list of landowners using the Project Information System to find projects over a 10-year period, including some current projects.
Some people, such as Okanogan resident Nicole Kuchenbuch, objected to seeing their families’ names on the list and said they are not interested in selling or granting easements.
Kuchenbuch is the daughter of Rod Haeberle, who owns Haeberle Ranch, and the granddaughter of former owner Buck Haeberle.
Buck Haeberle wrote a letter of interest to the then-named Department of Wildlife in March 1991. It outlined his interest in possibly selling land to the state for an Okanogan sharp-tailed grouse project.
A letter from the department in October 1991 informed Haeberle that funding had been pulled. The Department of Wildlife said it would keep his letter on file.
Kuchenbuch called her grandfather’s 22-year-old letter “irrelevant” since he died 14 years ago. Fish and Wildlife hasn’t approached her father about an acquisition or easement, she said.
“We must expect the Department to keep clean records,” she said in an earlier Chronicle interview. “If they are going to cite ‘interested landowners’ in their published work then they had better be certain that we are willing participants.”
Brown has said that Fish and Wildlife only works with willing landowners who volunteer to sell their property or grant conservation easements.