State loses out on effort to buy Benton Co. ranch

PROSSER — Washington state had hoped to buy and preserve a historic Benton County ranch on Rattlesnake Mountain, but the land is going to a private buyer instead.

A partnership called Gamble Land and Timber has purchased the 21-square-mile McWhorter Ranch for $7.6 million — far above the $1.8 million the Legislature authorized in 2011, the Tri-City Herald reported.

The Fish and Wildlife Department hoped to preserve the swath of arid lands shrub steppe, an ecosystem that’s been disappearing beneath development in Eastern Washington. It’s a possible nesting habitat for endangered ferruginous hawks. Fewer than 40 breeding pairs remain, and wind turbines, houses and vineyards are going up on the ridges that the hawks need for nesting and foraging.

Fish and Wildlife also had proposed opening the land to the public for hiking, horseback riding, bird watching and some hunting. But Fish and Wildlife has consistently said that while it hoped to be considered as a buyer, it would accept the decision of the McWhorter family on the ranch’s future.

“We hope in the near future to have a conversation with the new owner,” said Mike Livingston, Fish and Wildlife regional director.

The state would like to discuss whether the new owner is interested in preserving any of the ranch or selling any of it to the state, he said.

The registered agent for Gamble Land and Timber is John William Cass Gebbers of Brewster. Gebbers Farms is a family operation with 5,000 acres of orchard. It has been growing apples and sweet cherries at the base of Washington’s Cascade Range for more than a century.

A spokeswoman for Gebbers Farms declined to immediately discuss plans for the ranch.

The land, in the midst of prime Columbia Valley wine country, borders the Hanford Reach National Monument on the top of Rattlesnake Mountain and stretches down the mountain’s south slope between Prosser and Benton City. Below it are irrigated rows of grapes, hops and blueberries on smaller properties. Much of the ranch itself is open country, covered with bluebunch wheatgrass and sage.

The McWhorter Ranch was owned by R.J. McWhorter, a third-generation mid-Columbia rancher, until his death at age 86 in November 2007.

More in Local News

Mukilteo crabber missing; his boat was found at Hat Island

Frank Urbick set out Thursday morning but did not return.

Police looking for leads in case of missing Snohomish man

Henry John Groeneveld, 63, was last seen on Monday, when he said something about going to “the river.”

Separate Everett fires send man to hospital, damage boat

The man was hospitalized for smoke inhalation from the early morning fire.

Police: He made an appointment, then tried to rob the bank

A lawyer is accused of donning a fake beard and telling a teller that a gunman was outside.

Drive-by shooting reported in Marysville neighborhood

Police said there was no evidence to indicate it was targeted at a specific person or property.

Celebrating the origins of Christmas

LDS church holds annual nativity festival featuring more than 600 sets.

Trooper’s car struck when he was arresting man for DUI

She drove away but was arrested for investigation of driving under the influence and hit-and-run.

Inslee’s budget solves school funding with help from carbon

His budget would use reserves to boost education, then replenish them with a carbon tax or fee.

Man, 29, injured by shots fired at Everett thrift store

The gunfire followed an argument in the parking lot of Value Village on Evergreen Way.

Most Read