In 2021, Western Rivers Conservancy set out to conserve Yakima Canyon Ranch, which spans 3.5 stunning miles of the Yakima River in eastern Washington. The Yakima is one of the West’s premier streams, known for its fly fishing, recreational floating, spectacular river canyon and unique wildlife. Named after the indigenous Yakama people, the river flows 214 miles from its Keechelus Lake headwaters on the rugged eastern slope of the Cascades to the Columbia River, just south of the town of Richland. It is the state’s longest river of origin and colloquially known as Washington’s only blue ribbon trout stream, a term that points to its world-class fly fishing and public accessibility.
Between the towns of Ellensburg and Yakima, the river flows through the Yakima River Canyon, where it is flanked by the Yakima River Canyon State Scenic Byway, Washington’s first ever Scenic and Recreation Highway. With extensive public lands, the canyon is one of the state’s top destinations for anglers, boaters, hikers and other outdoor enthusiasts.
Most of the canyon is managed by the Bureau of Land Management and protected within the BLM’s Yakima Canyon Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC), but a handful of pivotal reaches remain unprotected. One of them is the 812-acre Yakima Canyon Ranch, which sits on two sides of the river along a dramatic horseshoe bend. The ranch lies at the epicenter of some of Washington’s best fly fishing water, with outstanding river access, good camping and excellent fish and wildlife habitat in all directions.
In December 2021, WRC purchased Yakima Canyon Ranch. We plan to convey it to the BLM for protection within the ACEC, ensuring more uniform management of the area for the benefit of fish, wildlife and outdoor recreation. The project will protect migratory habitat for salmon and steelhead as well as excellent habitat for California bighorn sheep, Rocky Mountain elk, mule deer and a myriad of small mammals and birds. The canyon's crevices and cliffs make a perfect home for the densest concentration of nesting hawks, eagles, and falcons in the state. Our efforts will also improve continuity of public access along the river and deliver permanent access to the popular Big Horn boat launch.
Historically, the Yakima was one of the Columbia Basin’s major producers of salmon and steelhead, but summer Chinook, sockeye and coho were previously extirpated from the basin, while steelhead and bull trout are currently listed as threatened. Major fish recovery and restoration efforts are now underway across the basin, and the Yakama Nation is also working to reestablish runs of summer Chinook, coho and sockeye.
Now that we've purchased the ranch, we will hold it until we can secure an appropriation from the Land and Water Conservation Fund, allowing us to convey the property to the BLM. Once that happens, this premier stretch of the Yakima will be permanently protected for the sake of fish and wildlife, and public access to nearly four more miles of the Yakima River Canyon will be guaranteed for good.