Conservation Northwest announces public campaign for wilderness and working lands
Jul 28, 2010
Conservation Northwest, along with timber industry leaders, recreationists and ranchers announced today a new collaborative initiative aimed at addressing threats to wildlife as well as rural economies posed by pressures from overdevelopment and climate change. The Columbia Highlands Initiative, unveiled today at simultaneous press conferences in Spokane and Seattle, seeks to maintain an important habitat connection between the Cascades and Rockies by protecting wild places and sustaining working ranches and jobs in the woods in the Columbia Highlands region of northeast Washington.
Conservation Northwest, along with timber industry leaders, recreationists and ranchers announced today a new initiative aimed at addressing threats to wildlife and rural economies posed by overdevelopment and climate change. The Columbia Highlands Initiative, unveiled today at simultaneous press conferences in Spokane and Seattle, seeks to maintain an important habitat connection between the Cascades and Rockies by protecting wild places and sustaining working ranches and jobs in the woods in the Columbia Highlands region of northeast Washington.
The proposal explained.
The lands in the northeast corner of Washington state still exemplify the mystique of the western frontier: local, family-owned mills still thrive, many family ranches still make their living off the land, and wild mountains and forests still provide habitat for a wide range of species, from caribou to grizzly bears and Canada lynx, found few other places in the U.S. Scientists have also identified the Columbia Highlands region of northeastern Washington with its intact wild areas and open space as an important region for wildlife to travel between the Cascades and Rocky Mountains as development continues to encroach on the remaining intact wildlife habitat.
“The pressures and changes of the modern world require us to take a new, collaborative approach to conserving our wildlife, natural areas, and traditional rural lifestyles,” said Tim Coleman, director of the Columbia Highlands Initiative. “We can’t do it without working together on the big picture: To maintain wildlife pathways and healthy forests, we also need to maintain our timber jobs and the large habitat-rich ranches."
The key elements of the group’s proposal includes: 1) the designation of new national conservation, national recreation and wilderness areas in the Colville National Forest, 2) support for ongoing national forest stewardship projects, and 3) collaborative work with ranchers, including raising private funds for easements, to keep several key ranches in operation for cattle production and that provide essential habitat for wildlife.
Ultimately, formal designation of wilderness, national conservation areas, and national recreation areas will require an act of Congress. Additionally some funding may be needed as well.
We’re deeply appreciative that members of our state’s congressional delegation, particularly Senator Cantwell and Rep. McMorris Rodgers, have been closely following our outreach efforts,” said Coleman. “They have consistently voiced their support for our consensus-building approach. We look forward to working with them on our ultimate goal of moving legislation through Congress.
“My grandfather started our family milling business and my dad followed in his footsteps and now I follow in his,” said Russ Vaagen, manager of Vaagen Bros. Lumber who attended the press conference in Spokane . “Community collaboration has worked for our business, and in these tough economic times, that has helped keep our workforce on the job. There’s an acceptable balance in both sustaining jobs in the woods and protecting some special places,” Vaagen said.
Some local ranchers have gotten involved in the effort because they recognize that changes to the land threaten their cattle business and the open spaces that enhance their lifestyle. They are collaborating with conservation groups to permanently commit key ranches to agriculture, open space and wildlife habitat, preventing real estate and mining developments that break up operations and harm the natural and agricultural heritage. “When the property around us starts growing houses instead of grass and trees, that hurts us and the wildlife,” said Ferry County rancher Bryan Gotham. “This partnership is helping us keep the land the way it was in my grandfather’s time, with a quiet backcountry that we can access by horse and a means to keep our ranch economically viable so I can pass it on to my children when the time comes.”
The Columbia Highlands Initiative also aims to increase recreation access and tourism in the region by convincing Congress to pass legislation that would establish national recreation areas, national conservation areas, and new trails for mountain bikes and off-road vehicles. New wilderness areas proposed in the package would also be an added tourism draw to the region.
Wilderness is seen by many traditional backcountry enthusiasts who enjoy the slower, quite pace of hiking or horseback riding as a way to keep a little piece of northeast Washington the way its always been. Many hunters also see wilderness as a way to maintain opportunities for pursuing deer, elk, bear and other game away from roads and crowds where hunting success can be greater and the size of some game bigger. “Wilderness areas ensure that those of us who prefer putting in the effort for a traditional hunt on foot or horseback will still have places like the Kettle Crest or Salmo Priest area to share with our children and grandchildren even with ever expanding development pressures,” said Joe Mirasole, a resident of Elk, WA, and chair of the WA chapter of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers.
“We want a balance where wildlife and wildlands can contribute economically,” says John Eminger, owner of 49 Degrees North Ski Area and a partner in the effort. “Wildlife and wilderness is an important part of the overall reason why people enjoy coming to recreate here. We want it to stay that way.”