CLE ELUM, Wash. — The euphoria was palpable inside the picturesque Swauk-Teanaway Grange Hall.
Gene Duvernoy, president of the conservation group Forterra, noted the hall’s church-like atmosphere and called the gathering “a service of the holy church of working together.”
He engaged the 100 or so environmentalists, farmers and government folks in a moment of shouting thanks to each other, one side of the room to the other. He had them do it again and again until it was loud enough to bring smiles and laughter.
The Oct. 1 festivities opened with a blessing, in song and word, by members of the Yakama Nation who said the state’s $100 million purchase of 50,272 acres in the Teanaway from American Forest Holdings in New York was a return to the land for them.
One could sense genuine community and maybe even affection among groups that until two years ago spent 30 years fighting about water supply and quality in the Yakima Basin.
Collaboration happened because all sides reached a point of deciding there was something to be gained from working together. They all had come to recognize, as Peter Goldmark, Washington Commissioner of Public Lands, said, that “no one entity gets all it wants.”
The result was that earlier this year, more than 50 organizations persuaded the state Legislature, during tight budget times, to appropriate $132 million for the start of Yakima Basin Integrated Plan projects, including the Teanaway.
The 50 groups included Forterra, the Wilderness Society, Trout Unlimited, American Rivers, the Yakama Nation, the National Fish and Wildlife Federation and the state departments of Natural Resources, Fish and Wildlife and Ecology. There were also counties, cities, irrigation districts and businesses.
But despite all the good feelings, how common is the vision? Are people seeing the same thing or different facets of the diamond?
The devil will be in the details and undoubtedly it will take continued cooperation to make collaborative management of the new Teanaway Community Forest work.
Goldmark, heading Natural Resources, and Phil Anderson, director of Fish and Wildlife, the two agencies responsible for management of the community forest, appear to get along fine. But will it be so smooth when their successors take over some day?
Urban Eberhart, an Ellensburg hay and tree fruit grower and board member of the Kittitas Reclamation District, has been working to improve irrigation for Kittitas and Yakima Valley farmers for 35 years. He’s a member of the Yakima Basin Integrated Plan work group.
Snowpack isn’t enough in drought years to meet water needs so the integrated plan includes new reservoirs and improvements of existing ones to increase water storage for irrigators and fish.
Public acquisition of what’s now the Teanaway Community Forest, believed to be critical habitat for conservation and restoration of fish and other species, was a means of getting national environmental groups not to oppose the plan’s reservoir projects, Eberhart said.
State management of the community forest with local and interest group consultation will mean better forest management, continued grazing and enhanced recreational use, he said.
Better forest management includes thinning timber to open the forest canopy more to reduce the risk of catastrophic fires, reduce insect problems and allow more snow to reach the ground where it stores longer instead of evaporating on tree limbs, Eberhart said.
But Goldmark said the landscape is already “fairly well harvested” and it’s a little early to get into that kind of detail.
The Legislature directed DNR to maintain working lands for forestry and grazing while protecting watersheds and wildlife habitat. It also directed the department to maintain and, where possible, expand recreation like hiking, fishing, hunting, horseback riding, camping, birding and snowmobiling.
Asked how recreation will be enhanced, Goldmark said he can’t talk ahead of what the management group may decide. He said snowmobiling probably can continue if the management group agrees.
Continued cooperation and agreement will be the key.
Ranchers in the Teanaway Valley will benefit, Eberhart said, by not having the influx of people from a large resort on their doorstep or development of trophy ranches.
In a recent meeting of Friends of the Teanaway, valley ranchers were supportive of the state acquisition but had lots of questions, he said.
“They wanted to make sure they still will have access,” he said, “and questioned how everything will be done.”