Some prime shrub-steppe habitat near Twisp took a step closer to permanent protection, thanks to a state grant awarded to the Methow Conservancy.
The Recreation and Conservation Office announced on June 27 that Methow Conservancy will receive a $427,319 critical habitat grant from the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program.
The Conservancy is working with landowners Mark Nysether and Charles Leyman to purchase easements on their properties that would prevent future development. If the conservancy does not purchase the easements, the landowners will subdivide and sell their properties for residential development, according to Methow Conservancy’s grant application materials.
The Lehman property is 264 acres between Twisp and Methow State Airport. It would be added to 1,028 acres Lehman owns immediately to the east, which is also going under a conservation easement.
The Nysether property is 1,916 acres and makes up a significant portion of the 3,275-foot-tall bluff that looms to the east of Twisp. The 2,180 acres combined could be subdivided into as many as 108 residential lots.
The grant is less than the amount the Methow Conservancy asked for — a little more than $2 million — but represents real progress toward protecting the two properties from future development, said Jeanne White, land program manager for the conservancy.
“We forecast that these partial funds will allow us to complete the Lehman conservation easement,” White said in an email on July 11. “We will continue to seek grant funding in order to complete the Nysether conservation easement.”
“It can often take several years (and several tries) to get a project like this funded,” White added.
The easements would protect shrub-steppe that is fairly unusual because it also includes more than 46 acres of wetlands. The properties are particularly valuable because they improve habitat corridors for wide-ranging species such as mule deer and their predators, gray wolves and cougars.
Across the state, more than 60% of shrub-steppe has been lost to development, according to the conservancy. The Nysether property is the third-largest unprotected piece of shrub-steppe land in private ownership in the Methow Valley. The two Lehman properties, 1,292 acres total, are the fourth-largest.