LAND ACQUISITION AS A CATALYST FOR RESTORATION
Floodplains are some of river’s most vital and fertile ecosystems. In these vibrant expanses, floodwaters slow and absorb into the ground, creating a mosaic of wetlands and side channels that hold all shapes and sizes of fish and wildlife. When it comes to restoring river habitat, especially for salmon and steelhead, floodplain restoration can have an outsized impact.
This is why, in spring 2023, Western Rivers Conservancy launched an effort to conserve a small but pivotal 39-acre tract of land in Kittitas County called Four Season Ranch. Conserving the ranch will set the stage for restoration of more than 650 acres of prime floodplain habitat along four miles of the Yakima River.
Four Seasons Ranch lies within a stretch of the Yakima called the Ringer Restoration Reach. Here, Kittitas County has been working with landowners for nearly a decade to purchase parcels along the river with the goal of restoring the entire reach to its natural floodplain. The ranch is the last privately held piece of land within this stretch and, as such, offers a rare opportunity to move this floodplain restoration effort forward while improving public access to the Yakima River when its complete.
A WIN FOR FISH, WILDLIFE AND PEOPLE
For the Yakima’s salmon and steelhead, restoring the Ringer Reach is a big deal. Recovering side channels and reconnecting the river to its floodplain will open critical spawning and rearing habitat that has been cut off for decades. This stretch of the Yakima River is also particularly important for its groundwater upwelling, which provides stable year-round water temperatures and thermal refugia for fish during summer and winter extremes.
Once Four Seasons Ranch is in public ownership and restoration is well underway, the property will offer new opportunities for hiking, wildlife viewing and fishing along this stretch of the Yakima. Conserving the property will also enhance access to adjacent BLM lands, which will ultimately be connected to the ranch by trail.
WRC signed an agreement to purchase Four Seasons Ranch in March 2023, with the goal of transferring it to the county in October. When that happens, restoration of the 650-acre Ringer Reach can move forward in earnest. Berms and levees will be gradually removed, or allowed to continue their decay, side channels will be restored, cottonwood trees will be returned to the landscape, and this stretch of the Yakima will once again meander and shift across its natural floodplain as it always had.