OLYMPIA -- The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife would acquire about 25,849 acres of shrub-steppe and lower-elevation forest habitat under a proposed land exchange with the state Department of Natural Resources.
The proposed exchange would affect properties in Kittitas, Okanogan, Klickitat, Yakima, Asotin and Chelan counties. In exchange, DNR would acquire about 12,424 acres of higher-elevation forest habitat.
Fish and Wildlife is seeking public comment through Dec. 16 on the proposal, which would allow the two agencies to more effectively manage lands for wildlife, said Jennifer Quan, the department's lands division manager.
Quan said much of the public land owned by the state in Eastern Washington is arranged in a checkerboard pattern, due to the way lands were distributed after statehood in 1889. That left wildlife habitat fragmented, increasing both the cost and the difficulty of effectively managing those lands long term.
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In one large area of central Washington, the two departments own or manage every other square mile across a 170,000-acre landscape with different management goals and legal mandates.
Exchanging lands would allow each agency to better address its specific management goals without reducing the total amount of public land available for wildlife or recreation, Quan said.
The exchange would:
-- Protect and enhance habitat for big-game species, shrub-steppe species such as sage grouse, sage thrasher, sage sparrow, Brewer's sparrow, and forest species such as the goshawk, pileated woodpecker, or forest grouse.
-- Maintain public access and recreation on public lands.
-- Generate revenue for DNR trust beneficiaries such as public schools.
A copy of the joint Environmental Assessment, which includes a description and maps of the proposed land exchange, is available on the Fish and Wildlife website at http://wdfw.wa.gov/hab/sepa/sepa.htm.
Comments on the document can made through Dec. 16 on that webpage, by FAX (360-902-2946), or by mail to WDFW SEPA Desk, 600 Capitol Way N., Olympia, WA 98501-1091.
In the first phase of the land exchange, finalized in August, Fish and Wildlife acquired 9,000 acres and DNR acquired 5,100 acres.