People can comment about the proposed transfers to the land bank until Dec. 6 at email@example.com. For more information and a map of the properties, visit www.dnr.wa.gov/managed-lands/land-transactions/land-bank-exchange-2019, or contact Deborah Whitney at (360) 902-1482 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
DNR has said it will hold a public meeting in the Methow, but it hasn’t been scheduled.
People who walk, ski, watch eagles, and support salmon recovery were alarmed when the state proposed transferring 490 Methow Valley acres to a land bank for possible sale.
In fact, the outcry was so great that the Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR) gave people two more weeks — until Dec. 6 — to comment on the land transfers, and promised to hold a public meeting in the Methow Valley.
The seven parcels are all within a few miles of Twisp — four on Balky Hill Road, two south of town near the Okanogan County Public Utility District substation, and one south of town on the Methow River. DNR manages these lands to provide revenue for public schools and other public institutions.
Some of the greatest concerns were over the four Balky Hill parcels.
On a recent walk on Cap Wright Hill above Balky Hill Road, Shirlee Evans spotted three mule deer and signs of bobcat and coyote. Evans regularly walks and skis on the open slope, which affords views of the North Cascades. In her comments to DNR, Evans pointed to the valuable open space, critical wildlife habitat, and recreation close to town. “A huge amount of land is already private. We need a bit for recreation,” Evans said.
Cap Wright Hill is one of the first places that’s snow-free in the spring. Evans’ mother and her friends, all in their 80s, make it a regular destination to look for early wildflowers, Evans said.
Scott Stluka moved to Balky Hill Road five years ago and often walks on the public lands in his neighborhood. He’s also explored some of the other parcels DNR is considering for transfer.
On the land near the substation, a creek flows from a private lake to the DNR land in the spring, sustaining waterfowl and wetlands, Stluka said.
“I consider these front-country trails, where we can go out the door to hike,” Stluka said. “They’re just as important as backcountry trails. We can’t all drive two hours to the Pasayten.”
Stluka had never seen a golden eagle until he moved to the Methow. But he’s seen the birds using the cliffs called Eagle Rocks by locals.
In comments to DNR, the Methow Valley Citizens Council (MVCC) said those cliffs provide nesting sites for golden eagles, other birds of prey and swallows. They also support rare plants.
The riverfront parcel, off Mundy Road south of Twisp, contains floodplain and riparian habitat that should be protected for endangered fish, MVCC said. The citizens council questioned why DNR would sell riparian habitat when it also funds river restoration in the Methow.
Some people support the land transfer. In a posting on the Methownet.com bulletin board, Rick Karro wrote, “It appears to me that the DNR is doing what it should in properly managing Public Trust Lands, that in this case are managed for financial support of Schools…. This land is not being managed for recreation.”
Evans recognizes that it can be difficult for a bureaucrat in Olympia to appreciate the land values when looking at a parcel map. She imagines someone studying a map or aerial photo and concluding, “It’s just a dry hillside. Who could possibly care about it?”
The Balky Hill parcels are very visible from town. “They’re a viewshed for all of us,” Stluka said. One of the biggest threats to trails is the privatization of land. “People lock it up,” he said.
Alternatives to sale?
The land bank holds properties DNR has recently purchased that have the potential to generate more income for the trust. These purchases are put in the land bank until they can be swapped — at equal value — with the trust lands.
MVCC and members of the public are urging DNR to explore other approaches that would preserve the natural benefits of the land. That could include exchanging the lands with another public agency or placing them in DNR’s Trust Land Transfer program.
The Trust Land Transfer program compensates the school trust for land determined to provide greater value for conservation, open space or recreation. The Legislature must appropriate funds to compensate for these transfers. In the last session, the lawmakers didn’t approve any of 10 requests made by DNR, but instead chose to transfer a different parcel, Kenny Ocker, DNR’s state uplands communications manager, said.
Jasmine Minbashian, MVCC’s executive director, talked with a DNR representative last week. He was very receptive to the community’s concerns, she said.
MVCC was one of several organizations that worked with DNR on modifications to a timber sale in the Methow last year. DNR realizes that people in the Methow care about public space and ecological benefit, Minbashian said.
DNR said the land swaps will make managing these lands more efficient by consolidating parcels and will increase marketing options for the trust revenue.
When a parcel is transferred into the land bank, there is no specific time frame for an auction. DNR will work with parties interested in purchasing the land, Ocker said.
The origins of the trust lands go back to 1889, when Congress granted Washington two noncontiguous sections of land from each township. DNR has consolidated many of the trust lands in western Washington, but in eastern Washington, many parcels are still isolated, Ocker said.
In addition to the land in the Methow, DNR has proposed transferring parcels near Tonasket and Conconully, as well as in five other counties.