Elk NetworkTucannon Washington Public Access Project

Conservation , onX Public Access | August 1, 2018

Triumph for Access on the Tucannon

58 acres protected, 2,600 acres of access improved

For decades, this 58-acre piece of private ground extended like a half-mile-long middle finger into the W.T. Wooten Wildlife Area (WA). Surrounded on three sides by the 16,500-acre WA, it was a developer’s dream. The property perches on Hopkins Ridge, offering forever views out across the Blue Mountains before plunging 2,300 feet in a little over a mile to the Tucannon River.

“Cabins are very highly coveted here in the southeast corner of Washington,” says Kari Dingman, assistant wildlife area manager for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). “So when it came on the market in 2015, we feared the worst.”

The property held one dilapidated cabin but could have been carved into six parcels, each with its own road, cabin, fences, dogs. WDFW had neither the cash nor the ability to take swift, decisive action. RMEF supplied both, buying the land and holding it until the department could come up with the money.

“It would have been a disaster,” says Bill Richardson, RMEF lands program manager for Washington and Oregon. “Instead, it’s not only protected forever as part of the wildlife area, it’s a huge win for public access.”

WDFW has been a great partner in enhancing the property and they hope to take ownership of it soon. A branch-antlered elk permit in the Tucannon Game Management Unit is one of the state’s most coveted tags. The wind-driven loess that defines the Blues is some of the world’s richest soil and it translates into jaw-dropping mineral deposits on bulls and bucks. Hunters wait decades for the chance to seek bulls that can and do top the magic 400-inch mark.

The WA is in excellent shape after rejuvenating wildfires in 2006 and 2011 and hosts thriving year-round populations of elk, bighorns, mule deer and whitetails. It also holds 17 miles of the Tucannon, whose cold, clear water provides critical habitat for federally endangered chinook salmon, steelhead and bull trout. Golden and bald eagles nest there. Otters flourish.

“In the springtime when every hillside is blanketed with blooming balsamroot and lupine, it’s just amazing,” Dingman says.

There was only one problem. All of the access roads lay along the bottom.

“That country is just so immense and gorgeous, but it’s killer steep and mean. There is no flat. They didn’t include it in that landscape,” Richardson says. But now a public road will lead to the new ridgetop property and a parking area will replace the cabin.

“You’ll be able to drop off those finger ridges and hunt all the way down to the Tucannon, then get picked up by your buddy,” he says. “This is going to be a wonderful way for people to more effectively access it.”