Publisher's Note: Our History, Our Future and Why the TransAlta-WDFW Land Deal Is Bad for Lewis County

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From the outside looking in, some might be perplexed by the vocal and consistent opposition to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s proposed acquisition of thousands of acres of land currently owned by TransAlta.

If it was a simple matter of opposing or supporting the creation of something as innately positive as a wildlife refuge, that confusion would be warranted.

The proposal, though, is far from being simple. As everyone from Lewis County commissioners, the county assessor and Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler have pointed out, the land transfer would deprive Lewis County of the limitless possibilities that would come with economic development.

It would do so at a time when the local economy is absorbing a massive blow from the long-planned shutdown of TransAlta’s coal-powered plants.

But the economic reasons for opposing the land deal are not the only concerns. They are paired with a sordid history when it comes to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s handling of our state’s resources right here in Lewis and Thurston counties.

In many cases, the WDFW has exhibited a lack of ethics that has on numerous occasions called into question its motives and management.

Here are a few examples and excerpts of coverage by The Chronicle over just the last few years:

• Massive poaching operation — In July 2016, “a tipster notified authorities in a claim that was forwarded to the WDFW that Eddy Dills, the campground host at Takhlakh Lake through a contract with the U.S. Forest Service and Hoodoo Recreation, was using his position deep in the forest to kill animals with the illegal help of dogs and a network of fellow poachers. What happened? According to WDFW documents, Dills and his band of alleged poachers continued to slaughter dozens of animals for months. He remained the campground host, maintaining unique access to the forest.” Oregon wildlife police ended up solving the case after arresting poachers who had traveled there.

• Deer ordered euthanized — As news of the poaching operation was still unfolding in The Chronicle, the WDFW — acting on a single tip — raided Heaven’s Sake Animal Rescue in Rochester and seized three deer fawns and a young elk that were said to be too tame. They killed them immediately. If not for outrage from the public, more animals would have been euthanized.

• Missing fish — “In 2016, WDFW finally relented to persistent questioning from The Chronicle and admitted 500,000 fish had mysteriously disappeared from the Cowlitz Trout Hatchery.” They said it could have been predators, or perhaps faulty equipment. I think it was inept management.

These are just a few local examples, and they’re not the worst when taking into account the rest of the state.

So in the case of the proposed refuge, our elected leaders are absolutely correct to question a department that allowed a massive poaching operation to slaughter wildlife right under its nose, lost half a million fish and killed animals at a rescue without hesitation.

That’s not to mention overall mismanagement of the state’s resources.

TransAlta isn’t above reproach here either.

While the international corporation has no doubt been a great community financial supporter and job creator over the years, this land deal feels a lot like TransAlta is turning its back on us and allowing WDFW to stick it to us one more time.

In Lewis County, we’ve always lived our way, taking care of one another and the land we live, farm and recreate on. TransAlta is leaving us with the mess they’ve created, saving them $80 million in reclamation costs.

TransAlta has teamed up with WDFW for two reasons. 1) They think they can pull a fast one on WDFW by making them believe this land needs to be saved for the people when the reality is TransAlta wants more of our tax money to pay for the mess they’ve created. 2) WDFW is gullible enough to believe them.

Both TransAlta and WDFW would also love you to forget about the federal Opportunity Zone championed by Herrera Beutler. It provides financial incentives for economic development in the area. If we lose that, we’ve been told we will never receive another one. This Opportunity Zone represents jobs, potentially thousands of them, and it seems WDFW and TransAlta could care less.

We are a county full of amazing people who lend a hand to anyone in need and work hard to support businesses that give back to the community we love. We’re also a county full of folks who are not afraid to stand up when something isn't right and fight for what is.

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Chad Taylor is owner and publisher of The Chronicle. He can be reached at chad@chronline.com.

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