The Washington Department of Ecology has fined Wade and Teresa King, owners of King Ranch, $267,540 for illegally damaging at least 23 alkali wetlands located near Park Lake in Grant County.
In total, Ecology estimates that 6.37 acres of wetlands were directly impacted with excavation and fill, and 1.76 acres of wetland buffer were damaged through spoil deposits. The wetlands are protected under state law that prevents the discharge of pollution into state waters.
“Damage to these important alkali wetlands has degraded the water quality, and damaged habitat for migratory birds and unique plant and animal species,” said Joenne McGerr, Ecology’s Shorelands and Environmental Assistance Program manager. “Even though these are individually small wetlands, they play an important role in the environment of the region.”
Alkali wetlands are uncommon in Washington, only occurring in localized areas east of the Cascade Mountains. The mineral concentrations in alkali wetlands result from a long-term process of surface water runoff and groundwater surfacing, forming pools, and then evaporating. These conditions cannot be easily reproduced or restored because the balance of minerals, evaporation, and water inflows is hard to mimic.
In addition to their habitat value, alkali wetlands are a source of plants and resources of significant cultural importance to local Tribes, who have depended on these systems for millennia.
Ecology determined at least 22 alkali wetlands were damaged between January and April 2021 after King Ranch excavated deep pools within the shallow wetlands. A 23rd location was discovered in Spring 2022, after King Ranch was contacted about the illegal activity. Eighteen of the damaged wetlands are on leased state-owned land, two are on federal land and three are on private land owned by King Ranch.
Along with the penalty, Ecology issued King Ranch an administrative order requiring restoration of the three damaged wetlands on their property. King Ranch must also provide access through their land for the restoration efforts on state lands.
“These actions are concerning because they don't match our understanding of the agriculture community's desire to care for the land,” Brook Beeler, Ecology’s Eastern Region director said. “Responsible farming and ranching can protect our environment and preserve natural resources.”
Ecology and the Washington Department of Natural Resources, which manages the state lands leased by the ranch, are working on a plan to restore the 18 state wetlands affected by the ranchers’ actions.
"DNR is committed to the highest standards of environmental stewardship on all state lands, and the destruction of these rare wetlands is unacceptable," said Michael Kearney, DNR’s Product Sales and Leasing division manager. "Our experience has been that most ranchers who lease state lands understand the need to preserve and protect Washington’s natural resources. We are deeply disappointed with the actions taken by King Ranch, and we have terminated their lease as a result."
King Ranch has 30 days to pay the fine, or to appeal the penalty to the Pollution Control Hearings Board.