Western Watersheds Project has successfully settled a lawsuit with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife over the Department's authorization of livestock grazing on the Whiskey Dick Wildlife Area.
The court ordered settlement prevents livestock grazing for at least 20 years on over 35,000 acres (55 square miles) of critically important sagebrush habitat on the Whiskey Dick Wildlife Area located on the Columbia River near Ellensburg, Washington.
Western Watersheds Project (WWP) and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife officials have reached a settlement in a lawsuit WWP filed challenging state authorization to graze livestock on the Whiskey Dick Wildlife Area near Ellensburg, Washington.
The settlement closes over 35,000 acres, or 55 square miles, of the wildlife area to livestock grazing for 20 years. The Quilomene/Whiskey Dick Wildlife Area contains some of the last remaining areas of intact sagebrush-steppe habitat in Washington State where over 90% of shrubsteppe has been lost to agriculture, livestock grazing, and development.
“This represents a big step forward for shrubsteppe and wildlife” said Dr. Steven Herman, an emeritus faculty member at Evergreen State College and active member of Western Watersheds Project, “With a secured closure to livestock grazing for at least 20 years, most of the area will have been cow-free for a half century.”
“I hope that we can make this a shrubsteppe preserve” said Dr. Herman, “The wildlife area is just over 100 miles from Seattle which makes it a great place for recreationists, wildlife watchers, students, and others to experience wildflowers, wildlife, and a pristine shrubsteppe landscape.”
The area links the last two remaining populations of Washington sage grouse, a species listed as “threatened” under the Washington Endangered Species Act, and contains streams harboring steelhead trout, listed as “threatened” under the federal Endangered Species Act.
The list of shrub steppe obligate and associated species that will benefit from this settlement include sage grouse, sage thrasher, sage sparrow, loggerhead shrike and sagebrush lizard.
“This is truly a remarkable achievement.” said Jon Marvel, executive director of Western Watersheds Project, “A group of dedicated local members and volunteers took the initiative and successfully confronted one of the most powerful interest-groups in the west. That effort secured lasting protection for one of the last, best sagebrush habitats in Washington State.”
Western Watersheds Project was ably represented in the case by Kristin Ruether of Advocates for the West. Additional thanks are due to our local counsel Toby Thaler of Seattle and WWP supporters Dr. Steven Herman, Dr. Don Johnson and Bob Tuck as well as WWP Biodiversity Director Katie Fite.