State agency should back off land buys
Last updated 6/11/2020 at 2:03pm
Earlier this month, state Department of Fish and Wildlife Director officials said they needed an additional $26 million to effectively manage its existing lands and programs. They said that if they didn’t receive additional money from the Legislature this coming session, they will have to reduce staffing and services.
Agency Director Kelley Susewind himself said it would be “pretty catastrophic” if his agency doesn’t get more money.
Why then is the agency simultaneously pushing to acquire an additional 18 land tracts totaling more than 6,900 acres? The proposed acquisitions for 2020 include areas of Asotin, Chelan, Clark, Cowlitz, Garfield, Grant, Grays Harbor, Jefferson, Mason, Okanogan, Skagit, Skamania, Snohomish, Spokane and Yakima counties.
Statewide, the agency already manages more than 1 million acres of publicly owned land and 600 water-access sites. It doesn’t need to take any more property off the tax rolls, especially in rural counties.
Let’s take a look at some of the properties on the acquisition list for next year:
The agency wants control of 507 acres surrounding Chapman Lake in Spokane County south of Cheney. That’s more than three times larger than the 146-acre lake itself.
In the extremely limited acquisition information posted on the agency’s website, officials claim they only want a “small lakefront footprint” on Chapman. Yet, an accompanying map shows the agency wants to acquire nearly all the land on the southern third of the lake’s south and west sides, east of South Cheney Plaza Road and north of West Cheney Plaza Road.
Let’s be honest here — the bureaucrats in Olympia really want control of a resort, the access road and a boat launch. With acquisition comes the ability to charge additional launch and other fees. And those fees will come on top of the additional state tax revenue that has to be spent to expand its employee ranks and land management duties, as well as the loss of property taxes and possibly private business tax revenue.
And how about the properties in Okanogan County. There, the agency wants control of 208 acres just off state Highway 20 and 420 acres on Hunter Mountain in the Methow Valley. There is already a shortage of affordable private land in the Methow Valley. This proposed acquisition would only ensure most rural Eastern Washington residents won’t be able to afford to live there.
If we look at Southeast Washington, the acquisition proposal is really aggressive in the Asotin area.
According to the acquisition plan, the agency wants control of three tracts in Asotin County and one just over the county line in Garfield County. The agency has its sights set on 643 acres in Green Gulch, 1,650 on Harlow Ridge, 770 acres in its sixth acquisition along the Oregon border and 720 acres in the Grouse Flats area. Just three years ago, Fish and Wildlife took control of 10,500 acres in the same area. For a rural county in need of revenue to pay for law enforcement and other services, that’s a lot of land to take off the tax rolls in just a few years.
The online information on these and the rest of the proposed acquisitions fails to include any cost analysis. There are no figures on the projected purchase cost, the amount of lost tax revenue, the number of lost jobs, the cost of future maintenance, etc.
Susewind said if the Legislature gives his agency an additional $26 million from the general fund this year and in future years, that would be enough to fill shortfalls. However, if Fish and Wildlife is allowed to continue growing its land holdings, he’ll surely be back at the tax-and-fee trough asking for more dollars.
He also said there are fewer hunters and fishermen buying licenses these days, and that’s why Fish and Wildlife is short financially. He claims his agency will have to find other sources of revenue, too.
I’m an avid outdoorsman. I hike, I fish, I camp and I boat. I rather enjoy the access I have to lakes and lands here in Eastern Washington. But access costs are already too expensive.
Interestingly, I had just as much access to outdoor areas, which were privately owned, in many other areas of the U.S., Canada, and Central and South America. The costs were lower and I didn’t have to listen to government bureaucrats blackmail voters with threats of reduced services if they didn’t get more money.
Rather than continue to ask for more money and expand an ever-growing budget, the agency should back off land acquisitions. Let private owners work the land, build homes and farms, and pay property taxes. Since the agency cannot afford to manage its current holdings, Fish and Wildlife bureaucrats probably should also consider selling some parcels back into private ownership and cutting staff.
Residents have until Jan. 3 to tell Fish and Wildlife bureaucrats to back off their 2020 land expansion plans; email firstname.lastname@example.org. If enough rural residents don’t speak up, Fish and Wildlife will likely move ahead with growing public land holdings at the expense of county services, asking for more tax dollars and eventually trying to further hike the costs to fish, hunt and access public waters.
Roger Harnack is the publisher of Free Press Publishing. He can be reached at email@example.com.