Stemilt-Squilchuck Community Forest

Case Studies, Forest Stories

Project Location/Community Supported by the Forest

The greater Wenatchee, WA, metropolitan area, population 50,000+, plus visitors enjoy the use and values of the forest.

Project Description

Chelan County owns and manages the 4,000 acre Stemilt-Squilchuck Community Forest acquired from Longview Fibre Timber Co.

In 2007, Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR) announced plans to sell four sections of public land in the upper reaches of the Stemilt basin into private hands. While these lands were no longer a management priority for DNR, they were of tremendous value to the local community. The four sections and the surrounding landscape are the heart of the Stemilt-Squilchuck watershed, providing critical water storage and production functions, recreational opportunities, and important wildlife habitat and resources. The privatization of these lands would put all of these values and more in jeopardy. Additionally, the Longview Fibre Timber Co. proposed to auction off over 4,000 acres adjoining the DNR parcels.

The Stemilt Partnership, a broad coalition of citizens, organizations, public agencies, and local leaders, formed in spring 2007 under the leadership of Chelan County to craft a community vision and conceptual plan to document community values and priorities across the landscape and protect these lands. The Stemilt-Squilchuck Community Vision was drafted to provide a foundation for future planning and conservation efforts at the watershed scale. Ultimately, Chelan County purchased the 4,000 acres of Longview holdings, and WADNR will transfer their remaining sections to WDFW.

Stakeholders

Apple Country Snowmobile club, Beehive Irrigation District, Chelan County, Chelan County Public Utilities District, Chelan-Douglas Land Trust, Citizens and Growers of the Stemilt and Squilchuck Basins, Highline Ditch Company, Lake Cortez Water Association, Lockwood-Canady Irrigation Company, Lower Stemilt Irrigation District, Malaga-Colockum Community Council, Malaga Water District, Mission Ridge Ski and Snowboard Resort, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Squilchuck Water Users Association, Stemilt Irrigation District, The Trust for Public Lands, Three Lakes Maintenance Corporation, US Forest Service, WDFW, WDNR, Washington State Parks, Wenatchee Heights Reclamation District, Wenatchee Sportsmen’s Association, Wenatchee Valley Fly Fishers, WRIA 40A Watershed Planning Unit.

Existing Conditions

The Stemilt-Squilchuck watershed sweeps up from the rocky shores of the Columbia River through prized cherry orchards into towering sub-alpine forests to snowy Mission Peak, climbing nearly 6,000 feet along the way. Just ten minutes from the city of Wenatchee, the watershed provides a wild solace for city dwellers needing a quick escape and a quiet, rural haven for those who live in the area. The landscape is valued by many: long-time residents who have sweeping views of orchards, foothills, and the Columbia River; families who work the land to produce award-winning cherries; and outdoors-loving skiers, snowmobilers, equestrians, and anglers who recreate year-round throughout the watershed.

The Landscape

The Stemilt-Squilchuck watershed is approximately 50,000 acres with varied terrain including high ridges, steep cliffs, large basins, deep channels, gravel terraces, and even a mesa characterize the landscape. The watershed is composed of four sub-basins—Stemilt Creek, Squilchuck Creek, Malaga, and Wenatchee Heights—that rise from semi-arid hills of shrub-steppe to sub-alpine forest and bare, rocky outcrops along Jumpoff and Naneum Ridge. The lower elevations receive an average of ten inches of rain annually, while upper elevations around Mission Peak at 6,876 feet, receive over 30 inches.

Agriculture and Water Resources

Orchards dominate the landscape from the Columbia River to about 3,200 feet, totaling over 5,000 acres or approximately one million orchard trees in the watershed. The prized cherry is the predominant crop, but other fruits such as apples and pears are also grown. A reliable water supply and delivery system is key to the orchard industry’s survival. As the snow slowly melts in the upper elevations, the water seeps underground and flows through the watershed to the reservoirs and complicated system of ditches, pipes and other irrigation infrastructure to the orchards, feeding the fruit-bearing trees throughout the hot summer and into the fall.

Fish and Wildlife

The upper portions of the Stemilt-Squilchuck watershed provide critical seasonal habitat for elk and mule deer in the late fall and spring. The large, intact landscape of the upper watershed provides corridors for wildlife movement north and south over Naneum Ridge into the Colockum Wildlife Area. Development within the proposed acquisition parcels would fragment wildlife corridors connecting summer and winter ranges for elk and mule deer. Protecting these corridors is vital to the management of the Colockum Elk Herd. The watershed is also home to an abundance of neotropical migratory songbirds and other birds, mammals and predators such as black bear, bobcat, and mountain lion. Stemilt and Squilchuck Creeks, the two main creeks that drain the watershed, provide riparian habitat for fish and other water-loving animals.

Economy

The orchard business is the driving economic engine for the watershed and the region. With over 5,000 acres of orchard valued at over $60 million to the local economy, the industry is part of everyday life in the watershed. Stemilt Growers, the leading tree fruit grower-packer-shipper in the country, started in the early 1900s on Stemilt Hill. Today, the company is known around the world and provides reliable business opportunities for families in the area. In the higher elevations of the watershed, forestry production has historically been an economic activity. Today, forestry is an ever-decreasing activity with private timber interests owning less land (and processing facilities shutting down ) and even state trust lands, logged to generate income for state programs, easing production. Although logging activities will likely continue in the future, they will constitute a small fraction of the economic activity in the watershed. A growing part Chelan County’s economic portfolio is the recreation and tourism industry—more and more people are attracted to the Chelan and Wenatchee area for easy access to recreational opportunities and the nascent agri-tourism (e.g., wineries) industry. The Stemilt-Squilchuck watershed, with Mission Ridge Ski Resort, plentiful trails, and local farms to visit, may benefit more from this burgeoning industry in the near future.

Recreation

For one of the smallest watersheds in the state, the Stemilt-Squilchuck is one of the most active and serves a wide array of recreational interests. The Green-Dot road system, logging roads, and other trails provide year-round access to public lands in the upper watershed and beyond and are heavily used by snowmobilers, bikers, hunters, hikers, equestrians, off-road vehicles, and other users. Also, Mission Ridge Ski Resort regularly attracts over 100,000 visitors a year—almost 112,000 in the 2008 season. Hunting for elk, mule deer, turkey, and other wildlife is one of the most popular activities in the area. Fishing at the trout-fed lakes of Beehive Reservoir, Springhill Reservoir, Clear Lake, and Lily Lake is also a favorite pastime.

Financing

Chelan County, WDFW and partners secured over $2.5 million to purchase the Longview Fibre lands. Funding sources included a USFS Community Forest grant ($400,000), WA Wildlife and Recreation Program Urban Wildlife grant ($1.25 million), $300,000 local contributions, $400,000 WDFW funds and other sources. Chelan County is currently developing a forest management plan and long-term financing strategy with the Stemilt Partnership.

Project Contact

Mike Kaputa, Director
Chelan County Natural Resource Department
411 Washington Street, Suite 201
Wenatchee, WA 98801
(509) 670-6935