A Douglas County farmer and his wife, Leroy and Betty Sanderson, have been named “Landowners of the Year” by the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife.
The couple, who now live in Electric City, own a large cattle and wheat ranch and have cooperated with Fish and Wildlife in enrolling hundreds of acres of wheat into the Conservation Reserve Program.
The Sandersons turned the reserve property into a recreation area for wildlife by planting trees, shrubs or crops specifically for wildlife, the citation stated.
Their ranch along the Columbia River Breaks is now dotted with aspen-, water birch-, and hawthorne-filled draws, with elderberry, wild rose and snowberry thickets scattered on the hillsides.
Of particular interest was the way the Sandersons improved habitat over the years for sharp-tailed grouse. “It thrives here because of the habitat,” one wildlife official reported.
The Sandersons enrolled hundreds of acres into the Conservation Reserve Program, but replanted it with the high-value wildlife mix.
In 2009, the Sandersons applied for and received Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) funds to enhance more of their property by planting over 6,000 trees and shrubs to benefit the grouse winter habitat.
The Sandersons also took to the bugs. They released hundreds of biocontrol weevils to control Dalmatian toadflax from invading this quality habitat. A few years after the release, the weed has shown a significant retreat from the area.
The Sandersons latest conservation endeavor was to sign up several hundred acres of stagnant grass fields into the State Acres for Wildlife Enhancement project, which will further enhance the grouse habitat.
The Sandersons have also been enrolled in the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife-regulated hunting access program for the past 16 years, allowing sportsmen to hunt their property.
Betty Sanderson said Tuesday that theirs was a “family farm” and that they want to do the best they can with it.
“We have enjoyed working with (Fish & Wildlife official) Eric (Braaten), he does a lot of research on the issues, and particularly about weeds,” she stated. “We wanted to try to do something different instead of just spraying for weeds.”
The award was made during a statewide F&W meeting July 12, in Ephrata.
The nomination was made by Braaten, an Electric City resident, who has represented the department for 20 years in the Douglas County area.
Braaten was also cited for his 20 years of service.