The recent approval of the 2017 Washington Capital Budget didn’t just finally shake money loose for salmon restoration work across much of the state.
It also funded critical deer, elk and upland birds projects through the time-tested Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program.
Four of the acquisitions are occurring in Central Washington, country where there’s still large blocks of land that make sense to bunch together and have manage WDFW them for critters of all sorts as well as hunting and other recreation.
The list includes:
* $1.5 million to acquire another 1,600 acres in the South Fork Manastash Creek watershed, which will “secure the remaining gap in the larger Heart of the Cascades project, which has conserved about 28 square miles of habitat along the mountain range,” according to the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Coalition;
* $3 million to buy 7,250 additional acres above the southern shores of Lake Rufus Woods, which will add to the Big Bend Wildlife Area/Grand Coulee Ranch and provide an “important link between sharp-tailed grouse populations in Douglas, Okanogan, and Lincoln Counties,” reports WWRC, not to mention more hunting access;
* $3 million to purchase 3,200 more acres in the Cowiche Creek watershed, the “final phase” of a nearly decade and a half-long bid to “knit together” some 80,000 acres of what WWRC calls “crucial upland wildlife habitat” in the region.
The Cowiche buy is particularly notable because it also benefits water quality and streamside habitat for ESA-listed steelhead and bull trout as well as coho and cutthroat, elk migration and winter range, and recreational opportunities, according to WWRC.
Those three projects received full funding, but a request for $4 million for one in Klickitat County fell short of its target. Still, $2.14 million was allocated towards the multi-phase purchase of private timberlands in the Simcoe Mountains, which provides deer habitat and hunting ground in a public-land-poor stretch of countryside.
All totaled, with approval from legislators and Governor Inslee’s signature, the 2017 Capital Budget provided $80 million for 103 WWRP projects, including $5.6 million for riparian protections on the Chehalis, Clearwater and Wenatchee Rivers and Kennedy Creek near Olympia.
There’s also $1 million for the City of Spokane to put in a fishing access site for disabled anglers in the free-flowing Three Islands area of the Spokane River by Spokane Falls Community College.
Unfortunately, the 7400 Line access project on the Wynoochee isn’t currently funded, a disappointment for drift boaters and other steelheaders who’d looked forward to the purchase of 15 acres and a road easement for a public put-in on the upper river. While listed as an alternate project should others above it fall through, it’s at the bottom of its category.
Besides habitat and recreational access, WWRP funnels funding towards farmland preservation, forest restoration, and park and trail development.
Before grants are awarded via the legislature, projects are evaluated through a rigorous year-and-a-half-long process that includes each being scored and ranked by experts before a board signs off on the order and its sent to the governor for inclusion in the Capital Budget.
Funding comes from the sale of state bonds.
“The WWRP is widely recognized as one of the best outdoor recreation and conservation programs in the nation. The (Washington Wildlife & Recreation Coalition) is pleased that the spirit of bipartisanship eventually won out and that these 103 highly-ranked land acquisition, development, and renovation projects will finally receive their funding,” said WWRC Board Chair Adrian Miller in a press release.
According to WWRC, since its creation nearly three decades ago, WWRP has contributed to the restoration of over 3,100 miles of riverbanks and protected over 400 square miles for critters.
The WWRP is the state’s premier outdoors grant funding program, and has funded over 1,200 projects and contributed $1.3 billion for recreation, wildlife, and working lands since 1990. The WWRP has restored 3,111 miles of stream bank, conserved 260,000 acres of wildlife habitat, and developed over 400 local parks to benefit Washington communities.