YAKIMA BASIN - 6/11/12 Flying for the Western Governors

Jun 11, 2012


Flying for the Western Governors Association

by Cynthia Wilkerson, The Wilderness Society

There’s nothing like flying in a small plane to illuminate connections at a big scale. In the Yakima Basin, it’s all about the water. From the air, the connections between the snow, streams, reservoirs and the Yakima River cannot be missed.

On a crisp, sunny morning, we meet up with Ecoflight pilot Bruce Gordon to look at the land and water conservation and infrastructure components of the Yakima Basin Integrated Plan. Steve Malloch of National Wildlife Federation and Jeff Chapman of the Back Country Horseman of Washington and I climbed aboard for this priceless adventure.

Jeff Chapman is public policy chair for Back Country Horsemen of Washington, board member of Washington Trails Association, and an appointee to the Washington Governor’s Association’s Outdoor Recreation Council. This past weekend, Back Country Horsemen of Washington voted to support the Yakima Basin Integrated Plan. This is great news and confirms a lot of the partnership work that The Wilderness Society has done in the state as well as with the national Back Country Horsemen of America. Jeff appreciated seeing the upper Yakima Basin from the air and relating it to the opportunity for National Recreation Area designation.

After the flight, Steve, a water policy expert with National Wildlife Federation, said “I’ve been working on this project for three years and the aerial view clearly demonstrated that the Cle Elum River valley above the reservoir is definitely fishy” (i.e. good habitat for fish).  The Yakima Basin Integrated Plan includes fish passage above the reservoir and recommends designation of the upper Cle Elum as a Wild and Scenic River.  Beyond that, he is even more convinced of the importance of the American Forest Land Company 46,000 acre private lands protection that is also part of the Yakima Basin Integrated Plan.

For me, it was inspiring to be so close to the mountains, rivers and valleys and to see how they connect. It is really striking how close the Stuart Range and Enchantments are to Ellensburg and certainly to Cle Elum and Roslyn, where I live. It is indeed a small world and the basin is all connected. Between this flight and the one I took yesterday, I was also struck by how visible the beetle killed trees were in the Teanaway watershed, how forested the private American Forest Land Company lands were and the quality conditions of the lands in the Manastash-Taneum region. All of this confirmed for me the importance of the work that the Yakima Basin Conservation Campaign is doing and inspires me to get out and about more in my own backyard.

A big thank you to pilot Bruce Gordon and Jane Pargiter of EcoFlight for their superior flight service in conjunction with the Western Governors Association annual meeting. Others who were able to take advantage of the flight over the upper Yakima Basin: Michael Garrity, American Rivers; Phil Rigdon, Yakama Nation; Paul Jewell, Kittitas County Commissioner; Peter Dykstra, The Wilderness Society; Marty Leosch, Office of Governor Chris Gregoire; Mark Rupp, Office of Governor Chris Gregoire; and Doug Young, Office of Governor John Hickenlooper.