On a beautiful, sunny day in early June I arrived at Avista’s Sacheen Springs, a wetland and old-growth forest oasis that borders a full half mile of the Little Spokane River. Although I was less than an hour’s drive north of Spokane, as soon as I stepped out of my car into a lavender lupine-filled field I felt as though I had entered another world, one of watery wonder. Staff from Avista’s environmental affairs department and our own Chris DeForest (Conservation Director) were among my guides. On a similar trip a year earlier an assortment of INLC volunteers, regional ecology experts, and a golden retriever also accompanied me.
After leaving the lupines, I passed lichen-covered granite boulders and crossed ankle-high rushing water to arrive on an island with majestic trees, including ancient old-growth western cedars. Honking geese circled overhead. Narrowly avoiding stepping in bear scat and moose droppings, I realized that this magical land was thoroughly inhabited, not by humans but by innumerable wild creatures.
Avista had invited me to come here. Nearly ten years ago the utility company went looking for the very finest wetland and wildlife habitat it could find in its service area. Fortuitously, Ducks Unlimited (www.ducks.org) knew of just such a property that was not only for sale but at high risk for being logged off and developed; logging roads were already in place. In the words of Ducks Unlimited's Chris Bonsignore, Sacheen Springs is “a special place in the Little Spokane River watershed. The property supports a valuable wetland complex with notably high habitat diversity, including a rare sedge bog wetland.”
In 2013 Avista bought this unique property as part of its hydropower licensing requirements. Avista Communications Manager Mary Tyrie writes, “these wetlands, as well as surrounding uplands, provide abundant wildlife habitat, protect and improve water quality, reduce flooding and erosion, and provide water storage.” Because of the property’s vital importance to its watershed, Avista subsequently worked with Ducks Unlimited to develop the Sacheen Springs Wetland Mitigation Plan.
Avista wanted to ensure permanent protection for the land, so that if it ever left Avista’s ownership there would be safeguards in place for the outstanding habitats. Consequently, Avista sought out INLC for our professionalism, perseverance, and track record with permanent conservation, and put a conservation easement on Sacheen Springs in June of 2018.
Enough cannot be said about the incredible attributes of Sacheen Springs, which is in near-pristine condition. The property consists of two islands in a sea of wetlands with other forested areas on the edge. It has open water, seeps, springs, perennial and annual creeks, old-growth forests, and rocky outcrops. Fifty-one of its 109 acres are wetlands (with uplands comprising the remaining acreage). There are nine specific wetland communities, including thirty-nine acres classified as “emergent,” 12 acres “scrub-shrub,” and 0.6 acre “forested.” In addition, Sacheen Springs supports extensive wildlife. Avista notes, "moose, deer, beavers, sharp shinned hawks, Cooper’s hawks, red-tailed hawks, great horned owls, mallard ducks, wood ducks, herons, osprey, bald eagles, and Canadian geese are among some of the species observed onsite.” On my walks through the forested uplands I passed a wide variety of coniferous species such as ponderosa pine, western white pine, lodgepole pine, western larch, western red cedar, grand fir, and Douglas fir. Smaller vegetation is also plentiful, much of it fragrant, including water lilies, Columbia lilies, Indian paintbrush, thimbleberry, sedum, Wood rose, bluebells, skunk cabbage, huckleberries, Oregon grapes, wild orchids, native orange honeysuckle, rose spirea, bead lilies, and wild ginger.
INLC celebrates Avista’s decision to purchase the land and donate a conservation easement. However, this is not a passive acquisition. The utility company is committed to preserving and improving this important property, through invasive species control and wetland restoration.
Moreover, in the future, Avista will provide educational tours and will allow limited public access with special permission.
Thanks to the joint efforts of Avista, Ducks Unlimited, and INLC, Sacheen Springs will forever remain a haven for wildlife, a stellar example of high quality wetlands, and a source of clean, pure water for the Little Spokane River.