220 acres provide habitat for mule deer, other wildlife
Mule deer and other wildlife will benefit from an additional 220 acres of protected shrub-steppe in the Rendezvous area recently purchased by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).
The 200-acre property called Rendezvous West is accessed via Gunn Ranch Road, where it connects with National Forest land. The 20-acre Rendezvous East parcel is on the north side of Highway 20, across from Big Valley.
Big Valley is already part of the wildlife area. It has a popular loop trail used by skiers and hikers that traverses fields, forest and provides river access. Some of the newly protected land is an inholding within the wildlife area.
The two acquisitions preserve a significant, well-protected mule deer migration corridor from Big Valley to the Rendezvous, WDFW Property Acquisitions Supervisor Thom Woodruff said. The land also provides stop-over habitat for animals migrating to and from higher elevations. Still, deer will have to cross Highway 20 to get from Big Valley to the higher elevations in the Rendezvous.
In each case, a private property owner was interested in selling the land to WDFW. There was already a conservation easement on Rendezvous East, which restricted it to one homesite, but the property owner had drilled three wells and none produced water, Woodruff said. WDFW has been in negotiations with the property owner of Rendezvous West for about 10 years.
The parcels don’t have established trails, but they are primarily open shrub-steppe and are accessible to the public.
Both sales closed this fall. The Rendezvous East parcel sold for $150,000 and Rendezvous West for $920,000, according to Woodruff. The two Rendezvous projects were funded by a $1.275-million Critical Habitat grant from the Washington Wildlife Recreation Program (WWRP), which is state funding appropriated by the Legislature, Woodruff said.
The new holdings add to the 34,500-acre wildlife area.
Several other potential acquisitions are already fully funded, but they need final approval from the Fish and Wildlife Commission, Woodruff said.
One would add to the Golden Doe unit of the wildlife area on the Twisp-Carlton Road. WDFW purchased 300 acres for that unit half a dozen years ago; now WDFW has a purchase agreement with the same property owner to buy the remaining 100 acres, which had formerly been used for cattle grazing. That transaction will be reviewed by the commission at their October meeting, but the land wouldn’t change hands until the spring, Woodruff said. The property supports year-round populations and seasonal concentrations of mule deer, black bears, coyotes and golden eagles.
WDFW is also in discussions with Okanogan County about the potential acquisition of 420 acres on Hunter Mountain, adjacent to the gravel pit the county bought two years ago near Methow. When the county purchased the 540 acres for the pit, they hoped that a sale could be worked out with WDFW, since the county needed only 149 acres for the gravel pit and the land connects with federal public lands and provides habitat for mule deer and other wildlife.
The land would help preserve important north-south wildlife corridor, according to the Washington Recreation and Conservation Office.
WDFW has received a $650,000 Critical Habitat grant for the Hunter Mountain property. WDFW and Okanogan County still need to finalize a purchase agreement. WDFW also needs approval from the Fish and Wildlife Commission, Woodruff said.
WDFW is also looking at acquiring a small inholding in the Carlton area in the Texas Creek wildlife unit. The parcel is about 3 1/2 acres and is completely surrounded by an alfalfa field that WDFW acquired 10 years ago. The parcel had been owned by the Washington State Department of Transportation, which gave it to Okanogan County for free when it no longer needed it, Woodruff said. Because it’s a small, unusual parcel, it’s not eligible for the traditional competitive grant process, he said.
Acquiring the land would add to WDFW’s agricultural holdings, since the farmer’s irrigation lines already cross the parcel, Woodruff said.
Okanogan County receives compensation annually from WDFW for all its holdings through the state’s payment in lieu of taxes (PILT) program. The county calculates the amount due based on the open-space classification, which is 50% of market value, according to Okanogan County Chief Deputy Assessor Jan Million.
In 2022, the county received about $523,000 for more than 78,324 acres owned by WDFW. That is twice what the county received in 2019. In 2011, the Legislature froze PILT at the 2009 level, but the freeze expired in 2019, according to a WDFW fact sheet.