I brought this up long ago, but don’t know how aware you are of the state of the proposal at this time.  Stemilt (Kyle Mathison ) has proposed the development of an orchard in Section 17 T 21N R20E on Wheeler Ridge on the north border of the Stemilt Basin. The proposal is  3 miles by   a very rough, little used county  road from the paved Stemilt Loop Road and from the Orr Creek Road.  The site is surrounded by undeveloped forested and open bitterbrush lands.  The orchard will result in the complete conversion of  260 acres of  mid to late successional of ponderosa pine forest to cherry orchard.   At this time the Wheeler Ridge Road to the site is  is heavily rutted and rocky and requires four wheel drive.  The road would be improved, graded and graveled for about  three miles to the proposed orchard site and be suitable for semi truck traffic.  Water pipes and electricity will be installed along the road right-of-way.  There will be worker housing and  possibly a manager residence at the orchard.  The orchard is bordered by 2.75 miles of public lands:  two sections (two square miles of Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife public land on two sides) and about .5  square mile of Squilchuck State Park land on the north side.  The WDFW lands were purchased from Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR) when DNR proposed to sell the land.  The lands were specifically purchased  for habitat protection of wolves, steelhead/salmon habitat and other Washington State Priority wildlife.   Much past effort  by Chelan County and other local, state and regional groups to acquire lands and influence management to protect ecological values in the Basin has been completed over several years.    The orchard proposal flies in the face of what has been cooperative action to ensure that current uses and ecological values are improved and sustained.  The area has good ecological functioning at this time and provides habitat for many  Washington State Priority Species including elk, mule deer, flammulated owls, bats, dusky and sooty grouse western toad and possibly several others.  It is the best of the best wildlife habitat in the Basin.  The orchard is adjacent and upslope of  Orr Creek,  the creek is used for both domestic and irrigation water downslope.  No environmental effects analysis has been done for impacts to the stream and ground water.  The development will impact  important calving and fawning area for elk and deer, both are Washington State Priority Management Species.  The orchard area and adjacent affected lands have not been adequately inventoried for ecological values, only very cursory work has been done.  No inventory has been done for upland vegetation and the wetland work is incomplete and unreliable.   I have worked on many Federal land exchanges and effects analysis is done for all resource values.  It is required to know what is there before attempting any suggestion of  mitigation.   Each resource specialist inventories the area for values then write the effects,  any mitigation is based on effects analysis.  There has been no analysis of environmental effects for the orchard and effects on adjacent public lands;  no discussion of the use of herbicides, pesticides and rodenticides on wildlife including amphibians, raptors and  native pollinators on proposed orchard lands and affected adjacent public lands.   The orchard will  require improvement of the Wheeler Ridge Road to a gravel road suitable for semi truck traffic.  On recent trips to the area I see mountain bikers, horse riders and some ATVs as the main users of the road,  it seems that bicycle riders approach from Squilchuck.  The wildlife habitat value of this area depends on the current low use of the deeply rutted , primitive road on Wheeler Ridge by vehicles and the intact functioning  of habitat devoid of all the noise, traffic impacts and the fencing of 260 acres of orchard will create.  At this time,  Chelan County  Community Development is discussing a  habitat mitigation and management  plan by the proponent.    An orchard in a forest is unmitigable, there is no way around it.   I think any HMMP will result in a lawsuit to protect  the ecology of this area.  Wenatchee Sportsmen’s Association (WSA) and myself  appealed and were dismissed on an appeal of  the County Mitigated Determination of Non Significance.  This was in front of the  Hearing Examiner (a rent-a- judge,  bought and paid for by Chelan County).   The denial was based on a legal requirement needed  to establish standing in appeal of a land use decision.  In my opinion it was clearly manipulated by the proponent to block appeal.   You have to appeal a permitted action for the appeal of the MDNS to become active, otherwise it is an orphan appeal and with no  timely appeal of the permit the appeal is dismissed.  In this case it was a road right of way permit to put in electrical and water.  I had no idea the permit was even applied for.  It takes a Public Records Request to find out.   The permit was applied for prior to release of the MDNS and issued after the final MDNS was released with a 15 day deadline for appeal.  I knew nothing about the right of way permit so my appeal  was deemed an orphan appeal and dismissed.  The WSA appeal was dismissed for the same reason.   Earlier in the process a Determiation of Signficance  which would require the preparation of an  Environmental Impact Statement was recommended  by Chelan County Natural Resources Department, WSA, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and myself.  Community Development made a Determination of Significance (DS) as there were significant effects,  which would require completion of an EIS.   But this was changed to a Mitigated Determination of Non Significance shortly after Stemilt threatened Chelan County with  a lawsuit.  At this time no environmental analysis has been done.  Several  cursory and inadequate studies have been submitted to the county by consultants and I have read them all, but no environmental effects analysis has been completed.   What does it all mean  ? It doesn’t mean shit. How can you  mitigate unknown effects  ?  Obviously,  our existing laws and policies do not  really matter, you can just override them due to outside pressure.   No rationale for the change from a DS to a MDNS has been offered by the county.    EFFECTS ON RECREATIONAL USE, WATER, WILDLIFE,  VEGETATION, EFFECTS ON  ADJACENT LANDS, NOISE,  AIR QUALITY, INCREASED TRAFFICC ON AN IMPROVED WHEELER RIDGE ROAD AND  CUMULATIVE EFFECTS (THIS PROPOSAL CONSIDERED COMBINED WITH ALL PAST, PRESENT AND FUTURE ACTIONS IN THE AFFECTED AREA)   HAVE  NOT BEEN CONSIDERED IN ANY WAY.  THE COUNTY HAS ESSENTIALLY SAID THAT ALL EFFECTS CAN  BE MITIGATED WITH EXISTING LAWS AND POLICY  WHICH IS IMPOSSIBLE.  What is  now taking place is a non public mitigation discussion between Chelan County and  the proponent ,  the public has no opportunity to provide comment, but after the mitigation is approved it can be appealed.  You too can go in front of the rent-a-judge and be dismissed for $580.00 .   I have made a public record request for the content of  discussions  between the County and  the proponent but  have been told it is  not available.  More information on the proposal is available here: https://www.co.chelan.wa.us/community-development/pages/current-planning  scroll down to Wheeler Ridge.  If you love the Stemilt and Squilchuck Basins the way they are and want a good quality functioning  ecology in the Stemilt and Squilchuck Basins and ongoing mountain bike and other recreational use of the Wheeler Ridge Road now is the time to step up and act.  The Wenatchee Sportsmen’s Association is asking for donations to help with the costs  to legally oppose this action.   The Mission Ridge  Expansion City is scarcely a mile away and it too will likely require opposition in the form of  legal representation, so donated funds will be used for this as well.  I will provide a donation request as it is available, but  you can donate right now through the WSA website http://wsassoc.org/.  Pressure on Chelan County Community Development and County Commissioners  would be appropriate at this time.  The County allowed this proposal to proceed without an EIS against recommendations from WDFW, Chelan County Natural Resources Department and the Wenatchee Sportsmen’s association.  The WDFW Regional Office in Ephrata has the role of approving the Habitat Mitigation and Management Plan (HMMP) and then it will be finalized by Chelan County.  You can call them to voice your concerns  (509) 754-4624 Ask for the Habitat Biologist handling the Wheeler Ridge Orchard Proposal.   This is from the MDNS— “16. The site-specific HMMP, once submitted to the Chelan County Community Development Department, shall be processed in accordance with CCC 11.78.100(2). The administrator’s written decision shall be forwarded to WDFW, other agencies or tribal entities which provided comments to the department and to any other agency/individual(s) who request a copy of the written decision (CCC 11.78.100(2)(B)(iv)). Any person aggrieved by the administrator’s decision can file an appeal of the decision in conformance with CCC 11.78.100(3) and Ch. 11.95 CCC.”   No mention if you have to have been involved earlier in the process to file an appeal, but usually you do.  The appeal will probably be in front of county paid the rent-a judge so you might be better off helping to finance legal action.

This proposal is driven by short sighted greed.  Section 10, which straddles the paved Basin Loop Road and is the start of the Wheeler Ridge Road is leased to Stemilt and is now almost completely  covered in cherry orchards.  It is owned by the public and managed by Washington State Department of Natural Resources.  It was excellent lower elevation shrub steppe (a very rare habitat in this area and the most endangered habitat in the  state) and ponderosa pine plant associations that has been completely lost  to Stemilt orchards.  The Wildlife movement corridor is the county road that runs through the orchards.  For me, it is disgusting.

I will let you know when the management plan is out,  if you  voice concerns at this time with Chelan County Community Development you may establish standing to appeal any final approval  jim.brown@co.chelan.wa.us  (509) 667-6225  If you can donate to the WSA legal fund you can do that here: http://wsassoc.org/

If you are interested in a field trip to see the area I will figure out a way to make it happen.  Let me know.  Kevin Kane 509 6303594  or send me a note at info@350wenatchee.org