Comments made by the Regional Habitat with Manager Washington State Dept. of Fish & Wildlife (WDFW) in the Dec. 25, 2015 article “Kennewick mountain biker worried about Southridge development” need to be addressed.
In the article, Al Potter describes his concern about the inequity of mitigation funds being requested by the WDFW from development on “pristine native lands” in our area could well not be used in our area to offset that development but likely be allocated to other areas of the state. Mr. Potter would also like to see more preservation of these last remaining local natural areas along with supporting new and existing trail systems for the public benefit.
In addition, the article contained the following “odd” statement by Perry Harvester, Regional Habitat Manager with WDFW, which had nothing to do with the intent of Mr. Potter’s position on the subject:
“I don’t even know if it’s legitimate to have people out there trespassing on private property,” he said. “It’s almost like they’re treating that like public land, when it’s private land.” Harvester also suggested that owners put “No Trespassing” signs on the property to help with potential liability.
One could be of the thought that Harvester is not fully aware of the “substantial liability exemptions” in Washington that are afforded private landowners who allow their property to be used for State Defined Recreation Purposes.
And that (per legal counsel review) the installation of No Trespassing signage can actually increase the property owner’s liability in many situations that are afforded liability protection under the RCW. It is also misunderstood that allowing recreational access doesn’t mean “unlimited access;” private landowners can restrict types and even times of access and still realize the liability protection given by the state.
And/or one could be of the thought that Mr. Harvester brought forward an unsolicited opinion not pertinent — and not accurate — to the subject to either divert attention from the main subject of the article and/or suggest a form of “get back” towards Mr. Potter for bringing the subject to the public’s attention.
In the Herald article, Mr. Harvester said the agency makes its highest priority finding land as close as possible to the area being developed when mitigating. In the case of private property, like the Nowak land, Fish & Wildlife only worries about obtaining land to protect wildlife, not to build new trails.
Per the defined mission goals of the WDFW, just “protecting wildlife on private lands” is not the “only” goal of WDFW in regards to private lands.
What is also little known is that WDFW itself maintains an online database of Priority Habitat and Species. In 2003, WDFW assessment of the Southridge area (which I believe to still be accurate) shows that the habitat area that contains the Nowak property is described as follows: “PRIORITY STATUS: YES. GENERAL DESCRIPTION: Shrub steppe, Zintel Uplands, Pristine shrub steppe community, feeding area for Raptors, Deer, Upland Game Birds.
There are two very important notations here: It has been given priority status and also identified as pristine. Rarely are these two used to describe the same property.
Given that, I am of the (non-confirmed) understanding that WDFW has requested a “substantial amount” of mitigation funds from the sellers of this south Kennewick property to allow the removal of several hundred acres of this “pristine” natural area.
Mr. Potter’s request is that this incredibly unique area should, first, be preserved for the benefit of the community, the county and in the public interest and that if committed for development whatever the amount that is secured from mitigation funds, or a substantial part of it, remain in our immediate area to secure and/or enhance similar properties.
Mike Robinson is a real estate broker with Windermere Real Estate/Tri-Cities, a long-time member of the Chinook Bicycle Club and participant in a work-project to monitor and clean up illegal dumping in the South Kennewick area.