'Ecological crown jewel' in limbo - State has funds to buy wetlands,
but dissents with owner on price
Spokane, WA - Three million dollars set aside to buy a sprawling wetland in the Spokane Valley may go unspent because the state and the biggest landowner can't agree on a price.
The state's Interagency Committee for Outdoor Recreation announced this week that it is granting $1.5million to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife for purchasing land at Saltese Flats. The agency granted $1.5 million to the project last year, as well.
The Wildlife Department had hoped to buy up to 1,200 acres to preserve for tundra and trumpeter swans, ducks, eagles, mink, muskrats, beavers and other wildlife.
The wetland has one of the highest concentrations and most variety of hawks, falcons and other raptors in the West, according to a Wildlife Department study.
"Ecologically, it's a crown jewel sitting right on the outskirts of town," said Ivan Lines, regional private lands coordinator for Ducks Unlimited, which had planned to help enhance marshes on the land. "It's probably the largest contiguous wetland that we have in the county."
The state's grant application envisioned "a showcase wetland area" and environmental learning center.
But a recent appraisal put a lower value on 350 acres of the land: About two-thirds lower than farmer Bud Morrison is willing to accept.
The land has family value in addition to its monetary value.
Morrison's late grandfather, Peter Morrison, settled the land in the 1890s and dug ditches to drain what was then a shallow lake. Once done, he fought all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court to keep squatters off the lake bed. Bud Morrison's father, Millar, lived all his 93 years in the family home.
"My mom is 99 and still lives in the ranch house," Bud Morrison said.
Although the state also hoped to buy from other landowners, Morrison's land and his water rights are key, said Howard Ferguson, a Wildlife Department biologist. He said the state will try to hold onto the money in case Morrison changes his mind, Ferguson said.
Tucked at the base of Mica Peak a few bends of the road south of Greenacres, Saltese is still rural.
But "the flats is slowly being degraded and destroyed by urban development," the Wildlife Department wrote in its grant application.
"Numerous new houses are popping up on its borders, with many more planned in the future."
Next time you are told the State of Washington can't afford to help the "people" because they have no money, please remember they have all the money in the world to save a duck.
You could say we are being "ducked". Ducks unlimited, could there be hidden agenda?
What's a few million?
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