WENATCHEE — The state will protect half of the 2,542 acres in the Stemilt Basin that cherry growers said is critical to water supplies for their crops. But the fate of the other half — once part of a proposed land swap with a private development company — is not yet settled.
Continued protection for 1,267 acres came Wednesday, when the Board of Natural Resources on Wednesday approved a transfer of two of four parcels to the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Fish and Wildlife had been leasing all four parcels since 2011.
The transfer puts $500,000 into state Department of Natural Resources fund that can be used to buy other land more suitable for producing revenue for the school construction trust.
The DNR land, about six miles south of Wenatchee, has long been under scrutiny by local residents concerned about the area for its water, wildlife, and cherry production value.
Several years ago, it was part of a proposed land exchange to Western Pacific Timber Co., but the property was removed from the proposal after cherry orchardists in the area expressed concerns over maintaining water resources in the area.
It is primarily shrub-steppe habitat, and includes easements for irrigation reservoirs and pipelines.
A citizens group, called the Stemilt Partnership, formed to discuss a potential future for the property.
The DNR Board later denied a proposal to transfer the entire 2,542 acres to Fish and Wildlife for $140,000, saying it didn’t earn enough for the school trust fund, but it did agree to lease the land to the agency.
Wednesday’s transaction puts two of those parcels under Fish and Wildlife ownership, and leaves two under DNR ownership, with the Fish and Wildlife lease withdrawn.
Mike Kaputa, director of Chelan County Natural Resources, said the Stemilt Partnership supports the transfer to Fish and Wildlife.
“There are some other questions, about the other two DNR sections, and what the future uses might be on those lands,” he said.
Jed Herman, DNR’s conservation, recreation and transactions division manager, said no decisions have been made about what will happen to that property.
“Our interest is to work with the community and discuss that very question,” he said.