Okanogan County is home to more than 300,000 acres of state trust land, much of it given to the people of Washington more than a century ago by the federal government. The purpose of this legacy was to enable our state to build and fund a great public school and university system.
That system is still going strong today, thanks in part from the revenue generated from our state trust lands. The Department of Natural Resources manages and protects these lands on behalf of the people of Washington. From our region headquarters in Colville, we care for this irreplaceable landscape and do our best to safeguard it from harm.
Unfortunately, we are not always successful. Over the years, open roads near Dead Horse Cliff enabled a few bad actors to trespass through adjoining private property, steal trees and wood, vandalize infrastructure and damage roads.
Vehicle traffic can also spread noxious weeds, and right now this area is relatively weed-free. Because of the cost to taxpayers to patrol and restore damage, DNR had no choice but to gate the road system to protect the area. We are sometimes forced to do this in areas throughout the state due to damage and theft by individuals using motorized vehicles.
DNR has a responsibility to ensure that all lands entrusted to its care are carefully managed and cared for. By law, we maintain undivided loyalty to state trust land beneficiaries for whom these lands are maintained, and we act when these lands are at risk or threatened.
In many areas in the region and across the state, visitors can drive to and through DNR-managed trust lands. Where gates are needed, state lands are almost always open to those who want to reach them on foot or horseback. Even when gated, some areas, such as Dead Horse Cliff, can be opened to vehicles for significant scientific, cultural and historical projects.
The good news is that Wayne Carpenter, mentioned in Publisher Roger Harnack’s June 3 column, will be able to enter the Dead Horse Cliff area with a vehicle for a certain period to research the historic site. Carpenter’s affiliation with the Okanogan County Historical Society was recently confirmed by them.
Their research into our area’s history certainly meets the criteria for vehicular access.
Protecting and managing state trust lands is an important responsibility for DNR. Leaving gates open in areas that have been vandalized or stripped is not consistent with that responsibility.
While the protection and management of state trust lands must always come first, I will continue to work with our community to ensure appropriate use of these lands.
Loren Torgerson is the state Department of Natural Resources northeast region manager. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.