THE FOLLOWING IS A PRESS RELEASE FROM THE ROCKY MOUNTAIN ELK FOUNDATION
An effort to permanently protect 1,453 acres of prime wildlife and riparian habitat in Washington is complete after the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation recently conveyed the final parcels of land to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).
The Merrill Lake project is now in the public’s hands and open for hunters, anglers and others to use and enjoy. To date, RMEF and WDFW completed 16 land protection projects.
“Nearly seven years in the making, this is a win for conservation, wildlife and a big win for public access,” said Kyle Weaver, RMEF president and CEO. “We appreciate the good work of our partners at WDFW for the work it took to acquire state grant funding to complete the three phases of this project. We also appreciate and recognize the Washington State Recreation and Conservation Office for funding to make this a reality.”
“This acquisition is a great example of partnership and collaboration in service of shared conservation values. It received tremendous public support and funding,” said Kessina Lee, WDFW southwest Washington regional director. “With its unique combination of listed species, unusual geology, spectacular falls, artesian springs and other features, this is a unique opportunity to address ecological, recreational and educational goals, and provide landscape scale connectivity of forested lands in conservation. WDFW appreciates the work of RMEF and the partnership to acquire this property.”
In late 2012, RMEF began work with Merrill Lake Properties LLC and WDFW to initiate the first phase of the project acquiring 297 acres at the foot of Mount St. Helens that also included Merrill Lake’s northern shoreline.
In late 2016, RMEF and WDFW completed another phase that came short of acquiring the entire property. With time running short due to a purchase deadline, RMEF stepped up to acquire the additional acreage saving it from the potential of development.
“This is a critically important project because of the diversity of habitat and the species that benefit from it,” said Blake Henning, RMEF chief conservation officer. “It includes both old growth tree stands and early seral forest growth that provide winter range and year-round habitat for elk. It also benefits black-tailed deer, black bears, cougars, salmon and steelhead.”
In addition to funding from the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program managed by the Washington State Recreation and Conservation Office, generous RMEF donors made the final transaction possible.