More than 50 people from counties across Southwest Washington took up residence Monday evening inside Swede Hall in Rochester for the first of what will be at least a few meetings regarding the development of a long-term management plan for the Scatter Creek Wildlife Area.
Employees of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife manned tables, fielded comments from concerned citizens and answered questions on topics ranging from fire suppression to trail access.
The department is in the process of updating management plans for all 33 wildlife areas under its purview. A process expected to take at least one full year will produce a 10-year plan crafted with input from an advisory group of local stakeholders. Key topics will include forest management, ecological integrity, public outreach and climate change.
Regional Wildlife Manager Brian Calkins, WDFW Region 6 Director Larry Phillips and Wildlife Area Manager Darric Lowery combined to give a keynote presentation that, while touching on different subjects, carried a universal theme.
“We’re very early in the planning stages for this,” Phillips said. “We’re not making decisions about anything yet. This is a public process for us to collect information from folks to see what they think about how to manage these lands.”
Aside from the inclusion of climate change, which drew the vocal ire of at least one person in attendance, the information presented by WDFW was met with cautious optimism and curiosity from those in attendance.
It is anticipated that a draft plan will be made available for public comment and review sometime in 2020. Additional public workshops and hearings will take place before any plan is deemed actionable.
Maps showcasing each of the six units totaling more than 3,500 acres within the Scatter Creek Wildlife Area were particularly popular. People were given the opportunity to speak with WDFW staff about each area, from the Skookumchuck portion east of state Route 507 to the Black River unit located 1.5 miles north of Rochester.
Within the first hour, the maps became plastered with Post-it Notes used by attendees to mark specific locations they wanted WDFW to improve, remove, or leave be. Jennifer Lyne, a member of Thurston County Equine Outreach, put up suggestions for where she believes it would make sense to add access points for horseback riders.
“I wanted to see what the decision making process would be for it and that the process makes sense,” Lyne said. “There are a lot of multi-use areas, but there’s a lot of other areas where it seems possible.”
Reinforcing fire lines and firebreaks also held a significant amount of attention during the workshop. Lyne said she nearly had to evacuate her horses from her property during the 385-acre Scatter Creek Fire that destroyed several homes and businesses in August 2017.
Lowery highlighted the removal of more than 180 trees last summer on the western boundary of the Scatter Creek section within the wildlife area of the same name. Prescribed burns and aggressive vegetation management take place each year across WDFW lands.
South Thurston County residents also have an interest in the potential South Sound Prairies project up for grant funding through the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program arm of the state Recreation and Conservation Funding Board.
The project would encompass 1,700 acres of land to be used for recreation, hunting, conservation and even pocket gopher mitigation. If funded as part of the next state capital budget, the first phase would be to buy the Alpacas of America farm just outside of Tenino.
Calkins said Monday that there hasn’t been much progress to report of late, and that there won’t be until they find out whether or not the state grants them $3 million towards the purchase price.