The Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife plans to make an offer for the ranch that stretches from the top of Rattlesnake Mountain down its south slope.
The McWhorter Ranch, advertised as including 14,135 acres, goes on sale June 1, according to the website McWhorterRanch.com. The ranch was owned by R.J. McWhorter of Prosser until his death in a four-wheeler accident at the age of 86 in November 2007.
McWhorter's family has been consistent in discussions that it does not plan to limit negotiations to one purchaser but that it will be happy to entertain an offer from the state, said Jeff Tayer, regional director for the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife.
The state had discussed purchasing the property with R.J. McWhorter before his death, but he was strongly attached to the historic family property, Tayer said. The McWhorters were a prominent ranch family in the Benton County area in the early part of the 20th Century.
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"We're still hopeful we can protect the property," Tayer said.
In 2011, the Washington State Legislature approved $1.8 million toward purchasing the land, which state records then described as covering 13,400 acres. However, the state estimates that it will need about $7 million to buy the land.
The state is exploring opportunities to obtain more money for the project from mitigation for unrelated projects that affect wildlife habitat. As those projects harm or decrease wildlife habitat, they may be required to contribute to wildlife habitat elsewhere.
The state is interested in the McWhorter Ranch because it's a chance to save a large swath of arid lands shrub steppe, an ecosystem that's been disappearing beneath development in Eastern Washington.
It's also an opportunity to provide a wildland recreation area for the Tri-City area, Tayer said. And the state wants to capture the McWhorter family legacy and celebrate the early settlers of the region, Tayer said.
The acreage has been part of a working cattle ranch and includes classic shrub steppe habitat with sagebrush and native grasses. It also has large canyons and draws with springs and riparian vegetation.
The land is important for wildlife habitat to prevent development of wind turbines, houses and vineyards on land that ferruginous hawks call home, according to supporters of purchasing the land for the state. The hawks are listed in Washington as threatened with extinction, and fewer that 40 breeding pairs remain in southeastern Washington.
The land also is used by other priority species, including the burrowing owl, long-billed curlew, Townsend's ground squirrel, American badger, black- and white-tailed jackrabbit, sage sparrow, sage thrasher, elk and mule deer.
If the state is able to purchase the land, it is expected to allow nonmotorized public access. That would include recreation that's compatible with wildlife habitat, including hiking, horseback riding, bird watching and some hunting.
The top of the property borders the Arid Land Ecology Reserve that makes up the north slope of Rattlesnake Mountain and is part of the Hanford Reach National Monument in an area that is closed to the public.
The elevation of the McWhorter Ranch ranges from about 1,050 feet to 3,450 feet.
Benton County, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and The Nature Conservancy also are working with the state on the project.