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The Ellis-Barnes Livestock Co. and Okanogan Land Trust finalized a deal in late December that perpetually protects 2,688 of rangeland through a conservation easement. The varied habitats on the property will be protected while still allowing for agricultural activity.

Okanogan Land Trust (OLT) is proud to announce that after six years of conversations, walking the ground, mapping the acreage, studying the soils, completing all the research to fulfill the requirements for due diligence, filling the forms and making the presentations, 2,688 acres owned by the Ellis-Barnes Livestock Co. are perpetually protected by a conservation easement.

The final papers were signed and recorded at the Okanogan County Courthouse just days before Christmas, making it a wonderful holiday and end to 2020 for OLT.

“The Land Trust is profoundly grateful to the Barnes family for donating half of the easement costs, which include money to cover stewardship and legal defense if the easement terms are challenged in the future,” stated OLT board President Gert Webster.

The other half of the easement financing was covered by the Farmland Preservation program of the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program managed by the Washington Recreation and Conservation Office (RCO), which works to address the rapid loss of working farms and forests within our state.

The Ellis-Barnes Livestock Co. has been ranching on this ground since the 1920s. The Barnes family moved to the Okanogan Valley in 1914 and began ranching on what was then called Blue Lake Ranch. The ranch has been family owned and operated since 1929. Five generations of the Barnes family have worked the ranch, and three generations are currently living and working there.

The ranch landscape is varied, providing mixed habitat for the wild residents there. The agricultural conservation values include prime, unique and important agricultural soils of regional and statewide importance, adjacency to other protected farmlands, and scenic vistas of pastoral landscapes. The Similkameen River borders the northern edge of the property.

The property is composed of a diversity of habitats, dominated by eastside shrub-steppe and interspersed with aspen and dry mixed conifer forest stands. It contains several special habitat types, including snags, eastside shrub-steppe and aspen stands that are listed as Priority Habitats and Species by the state Department of Fish and Wildlife because of their importance to native and migratory wildlife, relative scarcity, or susceptibility to disturbance, disruption and destruction.

The family and OLT recognize that the preservation of habitat is consistent with maintaining the opportunity for agricultural activity on the property; those habitat values shall also be maintained and preserved in perpetuity, all while staying on Okanogan County’s property tax rolls.

The Barnes family has fully committed to the practice of land conservation. In 2012, OLT worked with the family to successfully preserve 1,577 acres abutting Whitestone Lake with a conservation easement.

“... We are stewards for a short time, but we believe future generations will benefit from and celebrate land conservation,” said Bob Barnes on behalf of Ellis-Barnes Livestock.

The Barnes family and OLT intend that the agricultural conservation values will be preserved and maintained in perpetuity by permitting only those land uses on the property that do not impair or interfere with the agricultural conservation values.

For more information about conservation easements, the RCO program and other mechanisms to fund protection and wildlife initiatives, call 509-557-6306 or send an email to info@okanagonlandtrust.org.

Jerry DeBacker is the senior conservationist for the Okanogan Land Trust.