WENATCHEE, Wash. — It may take years, but the Mathison family is pursuing its desire to acquire or lease a section of state land high in the Stemilt Basin south of Wenatchee for future cherry orchard.

West Mathison, president of Stemilt Growers Inc. of Wenatchee, talked about more conservation easements with the Stemilt Partnership, on March 4, as a means of moving the project forward.

The partnership, a coalition of people and interest groups wanting to preserve Stemilt Basin, indicated a willingness to learn more but wants a transfer of the land between state agencies to occur first, said Mike Kaputa, Chelan County Natural Resources director. That may take five years, he said.

The partnership endorsed an agreement between the state departments of Natural Resources and Fish and Wildlife to transfer Sections 16 and 22 from DNR to WDFW within five years, Kaputa said.

“It may take several state funding cycles and land availability to come up with the right deal,” he said.

The agencies agree over doing it, but are just trying to figure out the best way in keeping with their different missions, he said.

Mathison said he has no defined timeline and will continue to engage the partnership. “Some areas are best for elk and some could be suited for cherry orchards with proper mitigation,” he told Capital Press.

“We will continue to develop our private land into cherry orchards with assistance from wildlife biologists to properly mitigate impacts to the land,” Mathison said.

A year ago, the Mathison family wanted to create 450 acres of cherry orchard on Sections 16 and 22. Last October, the family revised its plans to trade 218 acres of prime elk habitat on Section 21 for 218 acres of flatter, more open terrain on Section 16 to develop 134.5 acres of cherry orchard there.

Orchard on part of Section 16 would fit with orchard the family is planning on portions of adjoining Section 9 that it bought from a private owner. Section 21 is better elk habitat than Section 16 and would consolidate land uses to create larger areas of habitat, Mathison said.

Several members of the partnership have been critical of Mathison’s orchard practices in the area and have opposed orchard development on Section 16, saying it should be preserved as elk habitat.

Mathison said he acknowledges and respects opposing views but asks people stay engaged and open-minded “as we are still wanting input.”

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