COUGAR — PacifiCorp has bought more than 2,100 acres of elk habitat between Swift Reservoir and Mount St. Helens as part of its licensing requirement for the dams on the North Fork of the Lewis River.
The Skamania County Assessor's Office said PacifiCorp paid $4.8 million for the three parcels, which are north, south and west of Marble Mountain.
"Forty years from now, this is going to be the spot to see elk,'' said Bill Richardson, Washington-Oregon lands program manager for the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. "This is really a legacy for future generations in keeping that hunting heritage and culture alive.''
The purchase from Fruit Growers Supply Co., a California agricultural supply cooperative, closed 10 days ago. The Elk Foundation was instrumental in coordinating the deal including appraisals and environmental surveys.
Kirk Naylor, principle scientist for PacifiCorp, said the three parcels range from 1,200 to 3,400 feet in elevation. They have been managed as industrial forest for more than 40 years.
Naylor said the land will be used to provide more food for deer and elk.
Tree plantations and mature forest will be thinned. Special grass-legume seed mixes will be planted. High-nutritional shrubs will be encouraged.
"It's a blend of normal forestry, but at lower densities of trees and definitely encouraging a lot more forage,'' he said.
Hunting and hiking will be allowed, but not use of motorized vehicles.
"Motorized vehicles create a disturbance to the animals, so we will be gating this,'' Naylor said. "But we want to still encourage the hunters I saw up last fall that were biking in and hiking in to hunt these properties.''
Richardson said elk use the habitat better when they are at least two miles from public roads.
"It's going to be a wonderful walk-in hunting opportunity,'' he said.
Ray Croswell of Washougal, a consultant with the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, said some of the property had been divided into 20-acres lots for sale and a short-plat application was pending.
Naylor said the utility's new acreage abuts the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, where there is little timber harvest and thus less forage for deer and elk.
"These parcels can afford more forage and there can be more cover on the national forest lands,'' he added.
When planting, PacifiCorp is using western white pine and noble fir, the trees natural to the area.
"They'll do better at these elevations and the snow loads we get,'' Naylor said.
The 2,111 acres bring the utility's ownership of wildlife lands in the Lewis watershed to approximately 13,200 acres.
PacifiCorp purchased almost 1,000 acres of elk habitat in late 2010 at a cost of $5.2 million. Fifty-two acres were acquired in 2009 in the Yale valley.
Naylor said the new property is not just about deer and elk.
It has a mix of small wetlands, snags, stumps and stream buffers that support amphibians and birds.
"It's really got what you need for biological diversity,'' Richardson said.
Fruit Growers had other buyers for the property, but showed great patience to make the deal with PacifiCorp, Richardson said.
"This was a deal worth being patient for,'' said Charlie Brown, senior vice president for Fruit Growers Supply. "We do have a conservation ethic.''