As of Thursday, February 15, 2018
OLYMPIA The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission has approved the final phase of a 20,000-acre land acquisition to conserve critical wildlife habitat and support public recreation in Douglas County seven miles downstream from Grand Coulee Dam.
The commission, a citizen panel appointed by the governor to set policy for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), approved the land purchase during a public meeting Feb. 8-10 in Olympia.
Also at that meeting, the commission heard staff briefings and public testimony on other issues ranging from salmon fisheries to mineral prospecting.
Cynthia Wilkerson, WDFW lands division manager, said the purchase of the 7,217-acre Grand Coulee Ranch LLC property completes the third and final phase of the larger acquisition by the department to protect sharp-tailed grouse and secure quality recreation access through the Mid-Columbia/Grand Coulee project.
Comprised mostly of native shrubsteppe, the property provides critical habitat for the once-common inland bird now listed by the state as a threatened species.
"This property has special importance, because it connects sharp-tailed grouse populations in Douglas County with those in Okanogan and Lincoln counties," Wilkerson said. "Securing this habitat could make a real difference in the effort to recover this species."
Wilkerson noted that WDFW's acquisition of the property will also provide public access to hunting and fishing. Anglers will gain access to four more miles of river frontage on the Columbia River. Plans also call for opening thousands of acres to hunting for mule deer, upland birds and waterfowl.
Julie Sandberg, real estate services manager, said WDFW will pay the appraised value of $3.1 million for the Grand Coulee parcel, financed through grants from the state Recreation and Conservation Office and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Once the purchase is finalized, WDFW plans to combine the entire 20,000-acre acquisition to form the Big Bend Wildlife Area – the 33rd wildlife area owned and managed by the department in the state.
Other issues addressed by the commission include:
• Sturgeon fishing: The commission encouraged the department's acting director to begin discussions with Oregon fishery managers to develop a limited retention fishery in the lower Columbia River, similar to that in 2017. A presentation by WDFW staff showed that the number of adult sturgeon has increased in recent years, while the number of juvenile sturgeon has continued to decline in those waters.
• Salmon fisheries: Commissioners received staff briefings and heard public comments on salmon management in Grays Harbor and Willapa Bay. At the request of WDFW staff, they agreed to clarify the intent of a 2015 policy that established priorities for recreational and commercial salmon fisheries in Willapa Bay. That decision is scheduled during a conference call Feb. 16.
• Mineral prospecting: The commission heard from prospectors, anglers, environmentalists, and others about their views on state regulations on small-scale suction dredging for gold and other minerals. The commission will consider the information presented at the hearing in future deliberations about the issue.
• Director search: Commissioners discussed plans for recruiting and hiring a new WDFW director to replace Jim Unsworth, who resigned from the position Feb. 8. Joe Stohr, who has served as deputy director for more than a decade, has since been named the agency's acting director.
Minutes and audio recordings of the meeting will be available on WDFW's website at http://wdfw.wa.gov/commission/minutes.html