Teanaway land purchase

Ranch homes are scattered in the valley at the mouth of the Teanaway northeast of Cle Elum on Thursday. The state of Washington is purchasing 50,000 acres in the Teanaway as part of the Yakima Basin water plan. (Brian Myrick / Daily Record)

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Kittitas County gained attention across the region this fall when the state purchased 50,000 acres of forest land in the Teanaway.

The purchase was one of the largest in the state’s history, and part of a 30-year, $5 billion project to stabilize water supplies and improve fish habitat in the Yakima River Basin.

The 2013 state Legislature agreed in late June to pay more than $99 million to buy the scenic Teanaway lands from American Forest Land Co.’s holding firm. The milestone was lauded as an unprecedented act of across-the-aisle political support of a wide number of often-conflicting interest groups.

The sale is part of a long-term water strategy called the Yakima Basin Integrated Water Resource Management Plan.

 It aims to secure more dependable water resources, enhance fish habitat and improve water conservation in Kittitas, Yakima and Benton counties.

Restoration needed

As the headwaters of the Yakima basin watershed, the Teanaway drainage area in Upper Kittitas County feeds water to the Yakima River system. A number of nonprofit environmental groups advocated for the land purchase to protect water quality and quantity.

The purchase of the private timber property, its protection from rural development and the enhancement of its ecosystems and fish habitat became a key requirement for the groups’ support of the wider basin water plan.

Others developing the complex plan for more than two years agreed and sought funding from the state. They included representatives of basin businesses, local, state and federal government agencies and elected officials, irrigation concerns, agricultural groups, the Yakama Nation and others.

What’s next

The land is the state’s first Community Forest to be managed through the state Department of Natural Resources, with assistance from the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Management also will be in cooperation with the surrounding Upper County community, Kittitas County government and citizens and the many agencies and groups that are concerned with its future.

“The Teanaway Community Forest is one of the most beloved landscapes in Washington,” said state Public Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark at the time of the sale, “and it will be cared for and managed for years to come to reflect the values and priorities of the community that has worked so hard to protect it.”

Goldmark added that the beauty of the community forest trust model, when applied to the Teanaway lands, is that it allows local communities to help protect the forests they love in order to keep them undeveloped and accessible to the public for generations to come.

The Teanaway land is now owned by the state but will continue to be open for public recreation. It also will be working lands with livestock grazing and selective timber harvesting.

In early January there will be a call for nominations for volunteers to serve on the Teanaway Community Forest advisory committee. Those selected will work with DNR and WDFW staff and forest and wildlife experts to develop the best way to manage the property.

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