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 set its sights on conserving a small but pivotal 39-acre tract of land in Kittitas County called Four Season Ranch. In October 2023, after securing the necessary funding, we permanently protected the ranch by purchasing and then immediately conveying it to the county. Conserving the ranch sets 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 was the last privately held piece of land within this stretch and, as such, offered a rare opportunity to move this floodplain restoration effort forward while improving public access to the Yakima River.
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.
Now that Four Seasons Ranch is in public ownership, 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.
Importantly, conserving Four Season Ranch enables restoration of the 650-acre Ringer Reach to 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.
This project was made possible through funding and support from the Washington State Salmon Recovery Funding Board, the Yakima Basin Integrated Plan, Giles W. and Elise G. Mead Foundation, Hugh and Jane Ferguson Foundation, Betlach Family Foundation and generous individual donors.