CLE ELUM, Wash. — State agencies, environmentalists and farmers celebrated a $100 million state purchase of 50,272 acres of timber and grazing land north of Cle Elum on Oct. 1 and its designation as the state’s first community forest.
The purchase saves the land from potential development and as part of the Yakima Basin Integrated Plan will lead toward more irrigation water for farmers and ranchers in the basin, said Peter Goldmark, commissioner of Public Lands, and others at the celebration.
The event was held at the Swauk-Teanaway Grange Hall, 10 miles east of Cle Elum, in the Teanaway Valley. Goldmark said the deal officially closed that morning and is the largest single land purchase by the state in 45 years.
“The Teanaway River is a confluence of many branches. This celebration today is the confluence of the work of many people,” Goldmark said.
While the inability of Congress to work together shut down the federal government in recent days, diverse groups working on the Yakima Basin Integrated Plan in recent years have taken heat from their own constituencies in collaboration and compromise for the common good, said Phil Anderson, director of the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.
The Department of Natural Resources, headed by Goldmark, owns the land but Fish and Wildlife has a working landscape and habitat easement that makes the agencies joint managers of the land in consultation with local and interested parties, said Gene Duvernoy, president of Forterra, a nonprofit conservation group based in Seattle.
“The Teanaway has been a holy grail for the conservation community for a long time. This is a very special project and it’s a demonstration to the rest of the country that working together we can succeed,” Duvernoy said.
Ted Sturdevant, of the governor’s office, and Maia Bellon, director of the Department of Ecology, called the purchase and designation of a community forest an historic moment. Bellon called it a model for the nation.
Goldmark credited Forterra for brokering the purchase between DNR and American Forest Holdings, a New York company that owned the land. Goldmark and Anderson pledged to work closely with local residents and interest groups in managing the land.
“Will we lock it up? Absolutely not,” Anderson said.
Urban Eberhart, an Ellensburg hay and tree fruit grower and member of the Yakima Basin Integrated Plan work group, said proposals for a major resort with 1,000 homes on the land or 300-acre trophy ranches for the “super wealthy” spurred conservation interest. The purchase is why national environmental groups have gone along with new reservoirs and other projects elsewhere in the Yakima Basin that will improve irrigation for farms and water flow for fish, Eberhart said.
Goldmark said the purchase agreement includes continuation of grazing leases but that longterm land and recreational use will be up the agencies consulting with the locals and interest groups to decide.