When the Wasco County Board of Commissioners signed a letter supporting the sale of the Limmeroth Ranch in the Deschutes River corridor to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife in October, 2013, there was zero opposition.
Well, there is now.
Leading the group of unhappy nearby landowners at the June 3 meeting was Dean McAllister, who is also the vice president of the Wasco County Farm Bureau.
“The government already owns 54 percent of Oregon,” McAllister said. “Why do they need another 10,000 acres? When is it enough for the state?”
The purchase of the Limmeroth Ranch would add to the Lower Deschutes Wildlife Area, which was established in 1983 when the Oregon Wildlife Heritage Foundation donated 2,758 acres. In 1986, the foundation gave another 5,158 acres to the department.
McAllister was also concerned the Limmeroth property can only be accessed by crossing private property on easements that were intended for agricultural use only, not the general public.
Jeremy Thompson, of the ODFW, said no motorized vehicles are currently allowed on their properties and he assumed that rule would carry over.
McAllister said the increased hunting pressure would drive deer and elk on to private property and cause damage to crops and fences. He also questioned how the ODFW could afford to purchase the property when the department has a budget shortfall and is laying off employees.
Thompson admitted part of the agency does have budget issues but that the purchase and management of properties like the Limmeroth Ranch comes from a tax on guns and ammunition that is allocated back to the state, specifically for wildlife management, research and land acquisition.
“This is a separate $5 million that is out there available to us that we couldn’t use to fill our current budget,” Thompson said. “It’s not funds that we could cross over.”
The ODFW was attracted to the Limmeroth Ranch because of its wildlife, which includes golden eagles, peregrine falcons and bighorn sheep.
The property has been on the market for more than four years and ODFW has been pursuing the acquisition for nearly two and half years.
“We’ve been very open about it,” Thompson said. “We’ve had multiple public meetings. I’ve tried to reach out individually to most of the landowners. It’s been our policy to be very open about this purchase. We wanted the input up front to know what people thought and until recently we had not received any negative feedback. I understand the frustrations but we tried to frontload that.”
Two realtors were at the meeting to point out they cannot discriminate against any buyer. “I am the last person on earth who wants the government owning more property but I do think it’s a problem when we start telling people who they can sell their property to,” Jim Wilcox said. “This has been on the market and it has been appraised to justify the sale.”
The board of commissioners have received 15 letters, 11 supporting the sale of the property and four opposing it. Rocky Webb read a letter from the sellers, Paul and Velma Limmeroth, that stated “Our family has been farming in Wasco County since 1875… Selling the property has been a very long process that has been taxing on all family members emotionally, physically and financially… The land has been marketed and available for anyone else to make an offer, which has not occurred. The loss of this sale will create significant hardships for our family… We are confused and disappointed by the efforts of the Farm Bureau to stop the sale. This appears to be a knee jerk reaction to correspondence from adjacent property owners that have self-serving interests both financially and personally. As with any farming community, there are histories between families… The property will be sold. If need be, we will divide it into three separate parcels. Being a farmer, it’s hard to sell anything that will ultimately end up under government control. Though in this case, the aesthetic value to the public outweighs the farm value…There is no reason to stop this sale.”
Wasco County commissioners Scott Hege, Rod Runyon and Steve Kramer, who toured the property back in 2013, all agreed to wait two weeks until their next meeting on June 17 for any decision on whether or not to withdraw the support letter.
“I’m looking at those two weeks for more comment from those who have not spoken today and any others out there that might want to chime in,” Kramer said.
Hege revisited some of his previous concerns, which were all addressed by the ODFW before he signed the letter, like making sure ODFW would continue to pay property taxes, that the ranch would continue to be used largely for farming and grazing and if the public owned the land then the public would be able to access it. Hege also admitted that opposition in 2013 would have impacted his decision to sign a support letter. “If we had rewound back almost two years ago and had the same discussion, it would have probably been my decision that I don’t want to support it either way, for or against,” Hege said. “I don’t want to take a position because clearly we have people for and against it.” Hege added that the commissioners ultimately have no say about whether or not ODFW can or cannot purchase the property. That will be decided in Salem.
“I honestly don’t think anything we do or not do is going to have a significant impact on what happens,” Hege said. “If you really want to have a significant impact, go to the hearings in Salem and the body that makes that decision.”