Ranchers express concerns at open range forum

Dane Keane, who ranches above Rock Island, talks with County Commissioner Ken Stanton about proposed open range exclusion boundaries south of East Wenatchee. Keane’s son Kellen, who takes part in the family ranching business, is in the middle. (Karen Larsen photo)

| By Karen Larsen |

On June 27, the Douglas County Commissioners held the first of two community forums to discuss proposed open range exclusion boundaries. This forum, held at The Douglas County Public Services Building, was focused on two proposed exclusions on the north and south ends of East Wenatchee.

A handful of ranchers, who feared that they would be negatively affected by the exclusions or who had concerns about the exclusion process, attended the meeting. Members of the Keane family, who ranch in areas just adjacent to the proposed exclusion boundaries on the south side of East Wenatchee, commented on the impact the proposed changes could have on the family ranch.

Together with County Commissioners Ken Stanton and Dale Snyder as well as Todd Wilson, GIS coordinator for Transportation and Land Services, they discussed ways to redraw the boundary so that ranchers would be less likely to run into liability issues. Both the commissioners and the ranchers seemed to feel that this was very possible with some adjustments to the proposed maps.
The ranchers also pointed out some other areas in which the proposed exclusion maps could affect ranching operations in the area. It was decided that the ranchers who could be affected should be consulted before the maps are finalized for approval.

Ranchers at the meeting wanted to emphasize that open range does not mean that livestock are allowed to roam at large in the county. “There’s not a farmer that I know that wants his cows out,” said Kellen Keane.

The major concern is liability. Many ranchers have huge properties, and it is not practical for them to check all of their fencing on a daily basis. Sometimes a fence is damaged or a gate opened without them being aware of the situation. With open range designation, they are not liable for the consequences. “It’s a little safety net for us in terms of liability,” Jeff Keane said.

David and Molly Linville, who ranch in the Palisades area, said that the current open range exclusions will not affect their ranch. However, they had concerns about the process in which land is pulled from open range. David Linville said that he wanted to make sure that this process would be even-handed and that proper criteria would be in place to screen requests.

The next open range forum will be held at 5:30 p.m. July 9 at Bridgeport City Hall. The East and West Bridgeport Bar exclusions will be the focus of this meeting. Proposed exclusion maps are available at http://www.douglascountywa.net/departments/commissioners/BoundaryMaps.asp.