The historic McWhorter Ranch on Rattlesnake Mountain has been sold to Gamble Land & Timber of Brewster for $7.6 million, according to Benton County documents.
The Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife also had negotiated to buy the property, which covers about 21 square miles, when it went on sale June 1.
The land borders the Hanford Reach National Monument on the top of Rattlesnake Mountain and stretches down the mountain's south slope between Prosser and Benton City.
Below the McWhorter Ranch are irrigated rows of grapes, hops and blueberries on smaller properties. But much of the ranch itself is open country, covered with bluebunch wheatgrass and sage.
The state was interested in purchasing the property to save a large swath of arid lands shrub steppe, an ecosystem that's been disappearing beneath development in Eastern Washington. The land is near the Tri-Cities, which has been one of the country's fastest-growing metropolitan areas in recent years, and is in the midst of prime Columbia Valley wine country.
But Fish and Wildlife has consistently said that while it hoped to be considered as a buyer, it would accept the decision of the McWhorter family on the ranch's future.
"We hope in the near future to have a conversation with the new owner," said Mike Livingston, Fish and Wildlife regional director. The state would like to discuss whether the new owner is interested in preserving any of the ranch or selling any of it to the state.
The state Recreation and Conservation Board in October ranked as its top priority spending $4.5 million toward buying the ranch. In 2011, the Legislature approved $1.8 million for the purchase of the ranch.
The money is in the state's capital budget, which specifically includes funds for land purchases and state building projects.
The board was told that the land would be used as habitat, including possible nesting for endangered ferruginous hawks that forage the ranch. The hawks live mostly in Southeastern Washington.
But fewer than 40 breeding pairs remain, and wind turbines, houses and vineyards are going up on the ridges that the hawks need for nesting and foraging.
Fish and Wildlife also had proposed opening the land to the public for hiking, horseback riding, bird watching and some hunting.
Gamble Land & Timber purchased the land in two groups of parcels, paying $7.6 million, according to publicly available data from the Benton County Assessor's Office.
In addition, it purchased about 1,000 acres on the Yakima River west of Benton City owned by part of the McWhorter family for $900,000.
The McWhorter Ranch was owned by R.J. McWhorter, a third-generation Mid-Columbia rancher, until his death at age 86 in November 2007.
State records list the registered agent for Gamble Land & Timber, a limited partnership, as John William Cass Gebbers of Brewster.
Gebbers Farms of Brewster is a family operation with 5,000 acres of orchard. It has been growing apples and sweet cherries at the base of Washington's Cascade Range for more than a century. The Gebbers are descended from Dan Gamble, who arrived in Washington in 1885.
On Friday, a spokeswoman for Gebbers Farms declined to immediately discuss plans for the McWhorter Ranch with the Herald.