The Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) are poised to implement a portion of their Naneum Ridge to Columbia River Recreation and Access plan (Naneum plan).
This action is partly based on the faulty Chelan Country Stemilt-Squilchuck Recreation Plan (Stemilt plan) which fails to meet the need for non-motorized recreation. The Stemilt plan was completed by Chelan County in November 2018 and includes a checkerboard of land ownerships - private, county, state, and federal lands. The Stemilt-Squilchuck basin is a small sub-basin just south of Wenatchee that falls under the management of the larger Naneum plan. The Naneum plan encompasses approximately 230,000 acres of WA State public lands located between the towns of Ellensburg and Wenatchee and was completed in 2015 (a cooperative effort lead by DNR and WDFW).
While the Naneum plan was developed with a fully transparent, public process that encouraged and sought statewide public involvement, the Stemilt plan was primarily concocted to be a “locals” plan, even though the majority of the lands in question are state owned. Chelan County did not solicit participation by statewide recreation organizations but, in fact, discouraged it.
By not following due process, the result was that the Stemilt plan eventually diverged from the facts, data, science, and participation surveys to eventually misrepresent what actually occurred during the planning meetings. Now, the Stemilt plan has been submitted to DNR and WDFW for consideration on how to manage the state lands for recreation within the Stemilt-Squilchuck sub-basin.
The Stemilt recreation plan veered from due process when a letter was circulated by an employee of Experience Powersports in Moses Lake Washington stating falsely that non-motorized groups were “...trying to close down the Colockum to off road vehicles!” and that the local snowmobile sno park “...was closed to give access to skiers”. Both points were false, yet the Chelan County Natural Resources Department (NRD), bowed to pressure and allowed a small group of motorized advocates to hold up the ongoing planning process. The recreation planning committee had already completed a suite of recommendations with appropriate maps when the NRD decided to throw them out.
Most egregious was when the NRD misrepresented the dialogue and discussions that occurred between the winter non-motorized groups and the motorized groups. After only three meetings between the groups in question, and pressed for time, the NRD falsely stated the groups had reached a compromise when no such compromise had been agreed to. The result was that the NRD altered the original Stemilt recreation planning map by reducing the area of the winter non-motorized area that was recommended in the Naneum plan; instead, it included Federal and private lands in a new “compromise” winter non-motorized area.
Unfortunately, the state and the county have no jurisdiction over federal and private lands so including said lands in the proposed winter non-motorized area is disingenuous and arbitrary by making it appear larger than it is.
The lands proposed in the Naneum plan for winter non-motorized recreation are incredibly important for backcountry skiers, cross-country skiers, snowshoers and quiet recreation opportunities. Protecting these small areas is key to bringing balance to an area that currently has no designated non-motorized recreation area. The Naneum plan strives to reach a balanced land management scenario. The Stemilt plan failed to address the obvious need for non-motorized recreation, was not fact based, ignored participation numbers, and leaves the non-motorized recreationists to bear the costs of their faulty plan with a token area of little significance.
Please take a moment to contact Chelan County, the Olympia offices of DNR and WDFW and the Governor’s office to voice your opinion. These are public lands that belong to all of us. More information can be found on the Chelan County webpage under Natural Resources Department at: co.chelan.wa.us/natural-resources/pages/stemilt-squilchuck-recreation-planning
Comments can be sent to: NR.StemiltRecSEPA@CO.CHELAN.WA.US
Gus Bekker is President of the El Sendero Backcountry Ski and Snowshoe Club in Wenatchee.