October 2022 Conservation Corner

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Conserving a Premier Stretch of the Yakima River.

By Ken Moore

The Yakima River is one of the West’s premier desert trout streams. It flows 214 miles from Keechelus Lake in the Cascade Mountains to the Columbia River with a glorious 27-mile stretch through the Yakima River Canyon. Here, in a great sea of sagebrush, the river sweeps around giant horseshoe bends, past high basalt cliffs and rolling desert hills. Year-round trout anglers take to the Yakima in drift boats and rafts, and in summer, people head to the river for day floats in inner tubes. Bighorn sheep, elk, and mule deer can be spotted along the river’s banks, and the canyon’s crevices and cliffs are home to the state’s densest concentration of nesting hawks, eagles, and falcons.

Named after the indigenous Yakama people, the Yakima is Washington’s longest river that flows entirely within the state. Historically, the river was one of the Columbia Basin’s major producers of salmon and steelhead, but dams and a century of water withdrawals on the Yakima have degraded fish runs.

In the upper reaches of the Yakima River Canyon lies the 812- acre Yakima Canyon Ranch, spanning two sides of the river at the heart of some of the best fly fishing water in Washington. It is one of just a handful of the canyon’s river reaches that aren’t protected within the Bureau of Land Management’s surrounding Yakima Canyon Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC) and is home to the popular Big Horn boating access site. It’s an important property from a fish and wildlife perspective and possesses outstanding river access, excellent camping, and breathtaking desert vistas in every direction.

Given its importance, Yakima Canyon Ranch has long been a target for conservation. Western Rivers Conservancy first attempted to purchase the property in 2015, but it took until 2021 to get a deal in place. They acquired interim funding to purchase the ranch and are now working to secure an appropriation from the Land and Water Conservation Fund to convey the property to the BLM. When funding is in place, they will transfer the Yakima Canyon Ranch to the BLM for inclusion within the ACEC, guaranteeing permanent public access and ensuring greater management continuity along the river. Conservation of the ranch will also protect migratory habitat for salmon and steelhead and robust habitat for California bighorn sheep, Rocky Mountain elk, mule deer, and a myriad of small mammals and birds.

Once the Yakima Canyon Ranch is in BLM hands, this premier stretch of the Yakima will be permanently protected for the sake of fish and wildlife, and public access to this very special stretch of the Yakima River Canyon will be guaranteed forever.

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