State land swaps prompt Methow Valley concerns
Last updated 1/1/2020 at 5:45pm
Though there's no public access to much of hundreds of acres of Methow land the state is proposing to dispose of, area residents are making eloquent and emotional pleas about its value for wildlife habitat and recreation.
About 55 people - hikers, skiers, hunters, photographers and native-plant enthusiasts - attended a public meeting in December about a land swap proposed by the Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR). Speakers said they're concerned about the prospect of losing seven parcels of state land near Twisp to private ownership.
Listing dozens of mammals, birds, reptiles and a rare plant on the rocky bluffs above her home near Balky Hill, Helen Treser implored DNR to preserve the crucial habitat. Others said it's vital to keep open space near Twisp, where residents with limited economic means rely on nearby public lands for recreation.
"We want to make the land easier to manage - we're not trying to divest of land in Okanogan County," Brock Milliern, DNR's division manager for conservation, recreation and transactions, said. The agency is eyeing parcels elsewhere in the county that would be easier to manage, he said.
Most of the Methow parcels don't fit DNR's mandate to produce income for the trust that supports school construction, Milliern said. All but two of the parcels are leased for dryland agriculture or grazing, income is low - grazing generates just $2/acre a year, according to DNR. DNR is considering a transfer of these parcels into the state land bank, where they could be swapped for lands that produce more revenue.
But some local residents said the economic value of these lands can't be directly quantified. "There are huge benefits to wildlife and to migrating birds," one woman told the DNR officials. Most of these parcels are shrub-steppe, a habitat that's increasingly threatened, she said.
The Methow parcels are among proposed land swaps in six counties. Of the 1,176 acres considered for transfer, all but 106 are in Okanogan County - 590 acres in the Methow and 480 in five parcels near Okanogan and Tonasket.
People can comment on the proposed land transfers until Jan. 15, 2020, to [email protected] After that, DNR will take four to six weeks to review comments before making a recommendation to the state Board of Natural Resources, most likely in April.
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