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Buy Expands Asotin Creek Wildlife Area

by Eric Barker
Lewiston Tribune, July 17, 2003

The Asotin Creek Wildlife Area, 12 miles southwest of Clarkston, just grew by 8,500 acres.

A host of federal and state agencies teamed with private foundations to raise $3.5 million to purchase the Smoothing Iron and George Creek parcels of the J Bar S Ranch from the Schlee family of Asotin.

The property is adjacent to the Umatilla National Forest and the wildlife area managed by the Department of Fish and Wildlife. It will bring the total wildlife area acreage to 22,315.

The property includes 5 1/2 miles of the South Fork of Asotin Creek and George Creek, plus an additional 23 1/2 miles of tributary streams that are important habitat for threatened steelhead. Last year, 26 steelhead redds were counted in streams on the property.

According to a news release from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife the streams also provide good habitat for threatened bull trout and spring chinook salmon, which might be reintroduced there at a later date.

Besides aiding in the effort to recover threatened salmon and steelhead populations, the new habitat will also be a boon to hunters. The habitat is used by more than 300 elk each winter and will help the department reach its goal of increasing the Asotin Creek elk herd from 700 to 1,000 animals.

"It will be open to hunting this fall as part of the Asotin Creek Wildlife Area," said Madonna Luers, spokeswoman for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife at Spokane. "It's good habitat for elk and we want to do some things to make it even better for elk."

The new property is in the Lick Creek Game Management Unit. Luers said managers of the wildlife area are assessing which roads will be open and which might be closed if any.

She also praised the former owners for choosing to sell the property that the department has coveted for years and also for keeping it healthy.

"It has been well managed by the Schlee family for decades so it is in good shape and because it is adjacent to our wildlife management area and the Umatilla Forest it has always been a priority that if the property were ever for sale we would try to acquire it."

Most of the money came from the Bonneville Power Administration fish and wildlife mitigation funds, the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation also contributed to the purchase.

Dan Schlee of Clarkston said in a press release that selling the land was difficult.

"We've worked hard for 30 years to make a living off this land and it became a part of us," he said.

He noted that the parcel that the family used to raise crops and livestock has also been quality habitat for a host of wildlife species.

"It will mean a lot to us for the ranch to continue to provide plentiful wildlife habitat, hunting and recreational opportunities and economic benefit for our neighbors in Asotin County."

According to a purchase agreement, crops will continue to be grown there for a number of years and areas now in the Conservation Reserve Program will remain in the program.

Eric Barker
Buy Expands Asotin Creek Wildlife Area
Lewiston Tribune, July 17, 2003

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