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Plan yields right-of-way to wildlife
Proposal raises Washington rancher-legislatorís hackles

(HERE for more Wildlands articles and information)

Cookson Beecher, Capital Press 2/29/08

"Pure idiocy" are two of the words Rep. Joel Kretz, R-Wauconda, uses to describe a bill that calls for Washington state to be involved in a wildlife corridor extending from the Yukon to the Yellowstone Rocky Mountains.

Under SSB5318, Washington would participate in managing the state's portion of an almost 2,000-mile-long swath extending from Canada to Yellowstone National Park. Dubbed the Y2Y corridor, it would provide wildlife such as grizzly bears and wolves with a network of wildlife cores, movement corridors and transition areas throughout the corridor.

Ranging from 125 to 500 miles in width, the corridor includes the entire northeast corner of Washington, most of Idaho and much of Montana.

As the largest city in the U.S. portion of the corridor, Spokane would be recognized as the national capital of Y2Y.

For Kretz, who raises cattle, horses and timber, the plan is akin to auctioning off the entire 7th District.

"It would devastate my district," he said. "Property taxes would plummet, and dangerous wildlife would be free to attack children, pets and livestock. Folks who own their land would basically be renting it from an out-of-town environmental group."

He bristled at the thought of the support the bill has from urban legislators. And he posed this question: "What would the reaction be if the Legislature created an urban Washington wildlife corridor to make sure that grizzlies and other dangerous wildlife could roam free from British Columbia to Olympia?"

The bill - which won Senate support last year but didn't make it into law - was reintroduced and retained in its current status this session.

On Feb. 13, it passed out of the Senate with a 30-to-19 vote and was sent to the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee.

Kretz said the Nature Conservancy - working with several other environmental groups - was in Olympia this session asking for $5.5 million to buy land in the Okanogan-Similkameen area of Okanogan County, which Kretz described as "one of two parts in the effort to turn the 7th District into one big wildlife corridor."

According to the information provided to the lawmakers, the funding would begin the work "to secure an ecologically viable wildlife corridor, linking the North Cascades with the Okanogan Highlands and the Selkirk Mountains through conservation easement and acquisition."

As such, it would help secure 10,000 acres of the 80,000-acre corridor and provide long-term protection for threatened and endangered species, among them wide-ranging carnivores and 24 other species.

In a telephone interview with Capital Press the evening of Feb. 18, Kretz said ranchers have enough predator problems with cougars as it is.

Having grizzly bears and wolves roaming the area would make it even harder to raise livestock.

"It favors predators over livestock," he said. "It's just a recipe for more regulations."

Land-use practices are another concern. One of Kretz's fears is that the corridor will morph into a situation for agriculture similar to the spotted-owl protections that hit the timber industry so hard.

Kretz is also concerned about the possible effect the wildlife corridor would have on the proposed reservoir at Shankers Bend on the Similkameen River.

The Similkameen, which runs through southern British Columbia, empties into the Okanogan River, which flows into the Columbia River.

In 2007, Washington state taxpayers paid $300,000 to Okanogan Public Utility District to study a proposal for a new dam at Shankers Bend.

The water in the dam would be used for irrigation and to benefit fish down the Columbia. In the upper watershed, it would provide new water for the Okanogan Valley.

Kretz said letters and e-mails "are flying in from his district" about the proposed corridor bill and warned that people in his district "will push back."

Under the bill, the state's Fish and Wildlife Department is directed to involve local governments, landowners and local conservation organizations in the initiative when it has identified priority species, habitats or landscapes within Washington.

During public testimony on the original bill, department officials said that even without the bill, the department intends to work to participate in the ecoregional work Y2Y performs that involves Washington state.

Staff writer Cookson Beecher is based in Sedro-Woolley, Wash. E-mail: cbeecher@capitalpress.com.

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