Tag Archives: habitat

Study Shows 74 Percent Loss Of Columbia Tidal Wetlands, 85 Percent Up And Down West Coast

THE FOLLOWING IS A NATIONAL OCEANIC AND ATMOSPHERIC ADMINISTRATION STORY

An unprecedented survey has revealed the loss of about 85 percent of historical tidal wetlands in California, Oregon, and Washington. The report, published in PLOS ONE, also highlights forgotten estuary acreage that might now be targeted for restoration.

Where West Coast rivers reach the sea, estuaries serve as critical nurseries for juvenile salmon and steelhead as they make the transition from freshwater to the ocean. They are among the most dynamic and productive habitats known, also supporting migratory birds and a variety of other fish, shellfish, and terrestrial wildlife.

A FEDERAL GRAPHIC SHOWS THE AMOUNT OF TIDAL WETLANDS UP AND DOWN THE WEST COAST, INCLUDING IN SOME OF THE REGION’S MOST IMPORTANT SALMON SYSTEMS. (NOAA)

A team of scientists applied new technologies and data to identify and estimate the historic reach of nearly 450 West Coast estuaries. Their results show that the estuaries historically extended far beyond where they exist now. More than a century of development has erased roughly 85 percent of original vegetated estuarine wetlands, especially around major river deltas.

San Francisco Bay has lost about 85 percent of its original vegetated tidal wetlands, the study found. The Columbia River estuary has lost about 74 percent. While other scientists have estimated losses for these and other well-studied estuaries, this is the first time researchers have applied consistent methods across all 450 estuaries of the contiguous U.S. West Coast.

Mapping Reveals Restoration Opportunities

“Given how valuable estuaries are to so many different species, it’s important to understand how much they have changed and what that means for fish and wildlife that depend on them,” said Correigh Greene, research biologist at NOAA Fisheries’ Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Seattle and coauthor of the new study.

The lost estuary habitat includes areas that were long ago diked and drained for agriculture, and forested wetlands that had not been widely recognized as estuary acreage, said Laura Brophy, lead author of the study and director of the Estuary Technical Group at the Institute for Applied Ecology in Corvallis, Oregon. Identifying such areas may open new opportunities for restoration of estuary habitat that otherwise might go overlooked.

BEFORE AND AFTER IMAGES FROM THE TILLAMOOK ESTUARY PARTNERSHIP SHOW THE EFFECT OF REMOVING LEVEES AND TIDE GATES NEAR THE MOUTH OF THE TRASK RIVER. (TILLAMOOK ESTUARY PARTNERSIHP VIA NMFS)

“By folding in these areas that may not have been recognized as part of estuaries, we have a better idea of just how important and extensive these estuaries were,” Brophy said. “Now we can see new restoration opportunities that people didn’t realize existed.”

The study’s high-resolution mapping also highlights low-elevation areas at greatest risk of flooding as the sea level rises with climate change. Tidal wetland restoration in these vulnerable areas can re-establish natural processes like sediment delivery. This will help these wetlands remain productive into the future.

Estuaries Once Covered 2 Million Acres

The scientists combined precise elevation mapping known as LIDAR with NOAA water level modeling to establish the extent of tides that define estuary habitat. Based on these maps, they estimated that all West Coast estuaries once covered nearly 2 million acres. This is an area nearly three times the size of the state of Rhode Island.

Scientists have data on the historic and current wetlands in 55 of the larger estuaries. Those estuaries have lost about 85 percent of their original vegetated wetlands. These 55 estuaries represent about 97 percent of historical estuary area on the West Coast, so their losses reflect almost all of the estuary losses.

Since Brophy has studied estuaries for years, she found the losses “dismaying but not surprising.” She said the good news is that fish and wildlife that live in estuaries must be adaptable because of the ever-changing tidal environment. She says “if you give them the chance to move back in, they will literally jump at the opportunity.”

The authors of the study include researchers from NOAA Fisheries’ Northwest Fisheries Science Center, the Institute for Applied Ecology, Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission, Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development, The Nature Conservancy, Moss Landing Marine Labs, and Pacific Spatial Solutions. The project was coordinated by the Pacific Marine and Estuarine Fish Habitat Partnership.

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Salmon Recovery Board Announces $45 Million In Grants For Puget Sound Habitat Work

THE FOLLOWING IS A PRESS RELEASE FROM THE WASHINGTON RECREATION AND CONSERVATION OFFICE

Efforts to restore Chinook salmon, a critical food source for endangered southern resident orcas, and other Puget Sound salmon populations just got a boost thanks to more than $45 million in grants announced today.

AMONG THE $45 MILLION IN PUGET SOUND-RELATED SALMON GRANTS ANNOUNCED BY THE STATE IS $160,000 TO COME UP WITH FINAL DESIGNS TO PLACE LOGJAMS IN JIM CREEK, A TRIBUTARY OF THE SOUTH FORK STILLAGUAMISH RIVER, TO IMPROVE HABITAT FOR CHINOOK AND STEELHEAD. THE STILLY IS ONE OF THE WORST OFF RIVERS IN TERMS OF FISH HABITAT, AND ITS CHRONICALLY LOW RETURNS OF KINGS IMPACT PUGET SOUND FISHERIES, AND TRYING TO INCREASE THE SYSTEM’S HABITAT CAPACITY TO PRODUCE MORE FISH IS ONE WAY OF EASING CONSTRAINTS. (RCO)

The Washington State Salmon Recovery Funding Board, in partnership with the Puget Sound Partnership, awarded 64 grants in counties surrounding Puget Sound, Washington state’s biggest estuary. The grants focus on improving salmon habitat and conserving pristine shorelines and riverbanks.

“When we invest in salmon recovery, it’s not just salmon that we’re saving,” said Governor Jay Inslee. “Whether you live near, love to play in, or simply care about Puget Sound, this funding is a cornerstone of doing that—and investing in that habitat kick starts a suite of other benefits. We’re also preserving our Pacific Northwest legacy, our way of life, our jobs, our neighborhoods, and our communities.”

“We know that restoring salmon to levels that support our environment, other wildlife, and people, takes time, effort, and of course, sustained funding,” said Kaleen Cottingham, director of the Washington State Recreation and Conservation Office, which houses the Salmon Recovery Funding Board. “That’s what makes this continued investment so important, and we’re looking forward to seeing it play out in the shovel-ready projects teed up across Puget Sound.”

“The Puget Sound Partnership is committed to recovering salmon populations in this region and we are thrilled to see this funding come through,” said Laura Blackmore Puget Sound Partnership’s executive director. “Salmon are integral to the identity and traditions of the Pacific Northwest and are a vital part of the Puget Sound food web. This funding will support projects that help recover salmon populations and feed our struggling southern resident orcas.”

Grants were awarded in the following counties (click to see project details):

Clallam County………………………. $6,498,354

Island County……………………………. $342,815

Jefferson County………………………. $601,529

King County…………………………… $7,850,587

Kitsap County………………………… $1,560,967

Mason County……………………….. $3,829,757

Pierce County………………………… $2,254,211

San Juan County………………………. $333,253

Skagit County………………………… $3,771,928

Snohomish County…………………. $4,029,908

Thurston County…………………….. $1,376,658

Whatcom County………………….. $12,953,156

Multiple Counties………………………. $397,969

In 1991, the federal government declared the first salmon in the Pacific Northwest endangered under the Endangered Species Act. In the next few years, 14 additional species of salmon and steelhead and 3 species of bull trout were listed as at-risk of extinction.

By the end of the decade, wild salmon had disappeared from about 40 percent of their historic breeding ranges in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and California. In Washington, the numbers had dwindled so much that salmon, steelhead, and bull trout were listed as threatened or endangered in nearly three-fourths of the state.

Recovery efforts in the past 20 years have started to slow, and in some cases, reference the declines. Puget Sound steelhead populations are showing signs of recovery but Chinook salmon populations continue to decline.

The grants awarded today include projects that will remove a diversion dam to open 37 miles of habitat on the Pilchuck River, reconnect nearly a mile of the Dungeness River with 112 acres of its historic floodplain, and open up 16 miles of habitat on the Nooksack River.

Projects are prioritized by local watershed groups, called lead entities, as well as regionally ranked by the Puget Sound Salmon Recovery Council. The Puget Sound Partnership, the state agency responsible for leading the Puget Sound recovery effort, coordinates project ranking.

Funding comes from the legislatively approved Puget Sound Acquisition and Restoration Fund, supported by the sale of state bonds.

Since its inception in 2007, the Puget Sound Acquisition and Restoration Fund has leveraged $78 million federal and other matching funds and created more than 2,600 jobs. Fund investments have protected more than 3,000 acres of estuary, 80 miles of river for migrating fish and 10,000 acres of watershed habitat.

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RMEF Celebrates 35th Year Of Elk, Wildlife Conservation Work

THE FOLLOWING IS A PRESS RELEASE FROM THE ROCKY MOUNTAIN ELK FOUNDATION

Thirty-five years after its founding on May 14, 1984, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (RMEF) is celebrating decades of conservation success.

A BRONZE BULL BUGLES OUTSIDE THE ROCKY MOUNTAIN ELK FOUNDATION’S MISSOULA HEADQUARTERS. (RMEF)

“Quite simply, the growth and accomplishments of this organization are staggering,” said Kyle Weaver, RMEF president and CEO. “It began with four elk hunters in northwest Montana who struggled as they opened shop in a doublewide trailer, but did so with determination and a vision to ensure the future of elk and elk country. And here we are 35 years later with 235,000 members and a mission that continues to gain more and more momentum for the benefit of elk, other wildlife, conservation and hunting.”

To date, RMEF and its partners completed nearly 12,000 conservation and hunting heritage outreach projects with a combined value of more than $1.1 billion. Those projects protected or enhanced more than 7.4 million acres of wildlife habitat and opened or improved access to more than 1.2 million acres.

RMEF facts:

  • Protected or enhanced nearly one square mile of habitat every day since its founding in 1984
  • 7.4 million acres protected/enhanced = roughly three and one half times the size of Yellowstone National Park
  • 1.2 million acres opened/improved public access = roughly two and one half times the size of Great Smoky Mountains National Park
  • Assisted with successful restoration of elk in Kentucky (estimated 2019 population of 11,000+), Missouri (150), North Carolina (150), Tennessee (500), Virginia (200), West Virginia (120), Wisconsin (280) and Ontario, Canada (650-1,000)
  • Ten consecutive years of record membership growth
  • 12,000 volunteers across 500+ chapters
  • Advocated for public access to public lands, reauthorization of Land and Water Conservation Fund, wolf & grizzly delisting, forest management reform, other conservation issues

“We cannot thank all of our volunteers, members, sponsors, donors and partners enough for the past 35 years of conservation success,” said Weaver. “We honor that incredible legacy by pledging to do more to ensure the future of elk, other wildlife, their habitat and our hunting heritage in the years to come.”

RMEF Details $355,000 In Oregon Elk Habitat, Research Grants

THE FOLLOWING IS A PRESS RELEASE FROM THE ROCKY MOUNTAIN ELK FOUNDATION

The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation provided $355,128 in grants to fund nearly two dozen habitat enhancement and elk research projects in Oregon.

(RMEF)

The projects benefit 10,317 acres of wildlife habitat across Coos, Crook, Curry, Douglas, Grant, Harney, Klamath, Lake, Lane, Lincoln, Linn, Marion, Morrow, Tillamook, Umatilla, Union, Wallowa and Yamhill Counties. One of the projects benefits much of eastern Oregon.

“There is a great need to gain a better understanding of the productivity of elk populations as well as movement, behavior, private versus public habitat usage and other issues that affect elk in Oregon. That, in part, is why we provided grant funding for five detailed research projects,” said Blake Henning, RMEF chief conservation officer. “The funding also goes toward prescribed burning, forest thinning, meadow restoration, noxious weed treatment and other work that enhances habitat for elk and other wildlife.”

RMEF has 27 chapters and more than 17,000 members in Oregon.

“Elk and elk country in Oregon have our volunteers to thank for generating this funding by hosting banquets, membership drives and other events. We so appreciate their time and talents as well as their dedication to our conservation mission,” said Kyle Weaver, RMEF president and CEO.

Below is a sampling of Oregon’s 2019 projects, listed by county:

Coos County

  • Plant native grasses and forbs within coastal forest openings across 93 acres of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land to improve forage for wildlife (also benefits Douglas and Curry Counties).

Crook County

  • Seed 455 acres of meadow, sagebrush and aspen habitat on the Ochoco National Forest. Crews will also burn slash piles created during 2018 thinning operations. The project area is utilized year-round by elk and also benefits mule deer, antelope, wild turkey, California and mountain quail, Hungarian partridge and other species.
  • Enhance about 1,345 acres of wildlife habitat on the northern edge of the Ochoco National Forest. Treatments include meadow restoration, aspen enhancement and protection, improving big game security through installing effective barriers on closed roads and reconnection of the floodplain through stream restoration and riparian improvements.

Douglas County

  • Provide funding for lab analysis of forage clippings taken in spring and fall as part of a study examining multiple native seed mixes to determine the best mix for elk forage based on consumption and nutritional content. Provide funding for six GPS collars to be placed on bull elk as part of a study to define elk ranges in western Oregon including habitat use and movements, survival rates and mortality causes. The findings will assist with improved overall elk management (also benefits Coos, Linn and Lane Counties).
  • Provide funding for a study to determine whether sampling and extracting DNA from fecal pellets is a reliable way to estimate elk populations. Currently, biologists conduct counts via helicopter surveys but they lack effectiveness due to heavy, dense forests (also benefits Coos, Linn and Lane Counties).

Grant County

  • Complete seeding of 100 acres that were heavily encroached by junipers and previously treated via cutting, piling and pile burning as part of a continuing effort to improve elk and deer range in the Sage Brush Basin. Treat 400 acres of winter range for elk. mule deer and antelope on the Phillip W. Schneider Wildlife Management Area through chemical control of invasive annual grasses followed by drill seeding with a desirable perennial grass mix.
  • Restore aspen stands by removing encroaching conifers covering 155 acres along streams and meadows on the Malheur National Forest. This marks the first phase of a project encompassing 17,500 acres 14 miles south of John Day.

Harney County

  • Provide funding for a holistic approach to increase the quality of elk habitat across 3,280 acres on the Malheur National Forest and BLM land. Crews will refurbish five water guzzlers, improve elk security, distribute native grass and mountain shrub seed and apply noxious weed treatment.
  • Remove juniper from 288 acres of BLM land to improve the health and vigor of aspen stands and riparian areas used by elk, mule deer and greater sage grouse in the Little Bridge Creek drainage.

Klamath County

  • Provide funding to assist with the construction of a wildlife crossing under a new bridge along U.S. 97 at milepost 180. Specifically, RMEF funds will go toward the installation of 10 miles of fencing to help funnel elk and deer to the undercrossing.

Lake County

  • Treat 891 acres of elk summer range in the North Warner Mountains on the Fremont-Winema National Forest. This is the fourth year of a seven-year effort to restore aspen on a landscape-scale while also improving wildlife habitat and creating both natural firebreaks and local jobs.

Lane County

  • Use mechanical mowing, chain saws and other means to improve 180 acres of meadow habitat on the Siuslaw National Forest. Annual maintenance prevents the incursion of invasive vegetation and benefits elk, black-tailed deer and other bird and animal life (also benefits Lincoln and Douglas Counties).
  • Prescribed burn 100 acres to trigger the growth of native vegetation and improve overall forest health on the Willamette National Forest. The treatment is part of the multi-year Jim’s Creek Restoration Project to return the area to its historic state of scattered Douglas fir, ponderosa pine and Oregon white oak stands with a dense bunchgrass understory.
  • Apply a variety of treatments to benefit wildlife habitat across 161 acres in the McKenzie River Ranger District on the Willamette National Forest. Specific approaches include noxious weed treatment, prescribed burning, mulching, planting seed and wetland enhancement.

Linn County

  • Apply a combination of forest thinning, prescribed fire, seeding and other treatments to restore meadow and wetland habitat at three sites in the Western Cascade Mountains on the Willamette National Forest (also benefits Lane County).
  • Apply a combination of treatments to enhance and restore six mountain meadows over 157 acres where non-native species and encroaching conifers are affecting habitat in the Sweet Home Ranger District on the Willamette National Forest.

Marion County

  • Restore and maintain a 38-acre large mountain meadow on BLM land northeast of Gates that is a migration corridor and provides summer forage.

Tillamook County

  • Maintain and restore 135 acres of meadows in the Hebo Ranger District on the Siuslaw National Forest. Crews will institute a combination of noxious weed, forest thinning and planting treatments to expand existing meadows by removing competing vegetation (also benefits Lincoln and Yamhill Counties).

Umatilla County

  • Provide funding for research to provide biologists a better understanding why elk are shifting their range from public to private lands in the Blue Mountains. Crews will capture and place GPS collars on 50 cow elk so biologists can monitor their migration and use of summer and winter range while also aiming to reduce private land damage and increase hunting opportunity (also benefits Morrow County).
  • Treat 555 acres on the Bridge Creek Wildlife Management Area to control invasive weeds and stimulate the growth of desirable grasses and forbs.

Union County

  • Thin 600 acres of young, overstocked conifer stands on the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest followed by slash treatment and pile and burning. Improving habitat will increase the quality of forage on yearlong elk habitat and reduce elk damage on nearby private land.
  • Treat 2,000 acres across the Grande Ronde and Catherine Creek watersheds on the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest in the Blue Mountains to remove noxious weeds that degrade the quality and quantity of elk forage.

Wallowa County

  • Prescribe burn 500 acres on the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest to remove decadent grasses and shrubs as well as stimulate regrowth in open grasslands and the understory of ponderosa pine and Douglas fir stands. The project is part of a10-year effort to burn more than 5,000 acres within the Chesnimnus Wildlife Management Unit to improve elk distribution and draw them away from private property where damage complaints are common.

Eastern Oregon

  • Provide funding for research to gain a better understanding why elk populations are declining across wide areas of the northwestern United States. Researchers will apply a time series approach across three different landscapes to analyze population responses to several disturbance agents such as forestry, fire and grazing.

NMFS Shares Salmon Habitat Gains, Flood-threat Reduction From Tillamook Estuary Work

THE FOLLOWING IS A NEWS STORY FROM THE NATIONAL MARINE FISHERIES SERVICE

NOAA’s work with community partners restoring estuary habitat in Tillamook Bay, Oregon is revitalizing tidal wetlands for threatened Oregon Coast coho salmon, and helping reduce flooding in the surrounding communities and farmlands.

The project’s benefits to fish were realized immediately—443 acres of different estuary habitats critical to juvenile salmon are now available, including mud flats, open water with vegetation, marsh and others. Often called “nurseries of the sea,” estuaries offer unique conditions, like slow moving water and tides that bring in nutrients, which keep fish safe and allow them to grow.

BEFORE AND AFTER IMAGES FROM THE TILLAMOOK ESTUARY PARTNERSHIP SHOW THE EFFECT OF REMOVING LEVEES AND TIDE GATES NEAR THE MOUTH OF THE TRASK RIVER. (TILLAMOOK ESTUARY PARTNERSIHP VIA NMFS)

A recently published report also confirms the project’s flood reduction goals were achieved. Shortly after project completion, in October 2017, a flood occurred at the site. Our restoration work resulted in widespread reduction in flood levels and duration including along Highway 101, a key commercial and transportation corridor. In total, about 4,800 acres around the project site showed reductions in flood levels.

This project, like many others we work on, shows how restoring habitat back to its natural functions can help coastal communities be more resilient against severe weather. Nature-based approaches are being shown to provide these, and many other economic benefits, along both the the east and west coasts of the United States.

Almost 90 percent of the Tillamook Estuary’s historic tidal wetlands have been lost to development and agriculture. Like many other species relying on estuary and wetland habitats, loss of these areas is a primary contributor to the decline of Oregon Coast coho salmon.

Additionally, Oregon’s winters bring storm surges, heavy rainfall, and snow melt. Combined with high tides, this often causes flooding in the area. Flood losses in Tillamook County exceeded $60 million from 1996 – 2000.

ESTUARIES ARE IMPORTANT HABITAT FOR COHO SMOLTS ALONG WITH THE YOUNG OF OTHER SALMON SPECIES. (ROGER TABOR, USFWS)

To achieve the mutually beneficial project goals, old levees, fill, and tide gates were removed to create tidal estuary habitat. This functions as a “flow corridor,” allowing flood waters to move freely and quickly away from the town of Tillamook. Now, nearby properties and more than 500 structures are protected from flooding. It’s estimated that $9.2 million in economic benefits will accrue from avoided flood damages over the next 50 years.

The project reconnected hundreds of acres of marsh habitat and restored 13 miles of new tidal channels. This will significantly benefit Endangered Species Act-listed Oregon Coast coho salmon. Historically, more than 200,000 of these salmon would return to Tillamook Bay each year. That number was down to just 2,000 in 2012. This habitat is critical for juvenile salmon to feed and grow, and will help with the broader goal of species recovery along Oregon’s entire coast.

The Southern Flow Corridor Project is the result of tremendous community support and collaboration. NOAA Fisheries’ Restoration Center, within the Office of Habitat Conservation, and the West Coast Regional Office, worked with more than a dozen local, state, federal, tribal and private partners on this effort.

BRYCE MOLENKAMP PREPARES TO NET A SALMON ON TILLAMOOK BAY. (MARK VEARY)

Key partners include the Port of Tillamook Bay, Tillamook Bay Habitat and Estuary Improvement District, Tillamook County, the State of Oregon, FEMA, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Institute for Applied Ecology, and the Tillamook Estuaries Partnership. We provided funding for the project through the Community-based Restoration Program and the Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund, and on-the-ground technical assistance.

Completed RMEF-WDFW Merrill Lake Acquisition Highlights Value Of ‘Partnership … Collaboration, Shared Conservation Values’

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).

AN IMAGE FROM THE ROCKY MOUNTAIN ELK FOUNDATION SHOWS SOME OF THE LAND AROUND MERRILL LAKE. (RMEF)

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.”

ANOTHER RMEF IMAGE SHOWS A WATERFALL ON THE UPPER KALAMA RIVER IN THE PROJECT AREA. (RMEF)

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.

RMEF Awards $310,000 For Washington Elk Projects

THE FOLLOWING IS A PRESS RELEASE FROM THE ROCKY MOUNTAIN ELK FOUNDATION

The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation awarded $309,735 in grant funding to benefit elk and elk habitat in Washington.

“Noxious weeds and overly dense forests continue to choke out quality forage for elk and other wildlife. The majority of these 2019 habitat stewardship projects tackle these issues head-on,” said Blake Henning, RMEF chief conservation officer. “We also designated funding for scientific research to monitor the potential impact habitat modification has on predator-prey interactions.”

SUN BLAZES OVER WASHINGTON ELK COUNTRY. (RMEF)

Seventeen projects positively impact more than 4,000 acres of wildlife habitat in Asotin, Columbia, Cowlitz, Ferry, Garfield, Kittitas, Lewis, Okanogan, Pend Oreille, Skamania, Stevens and Yakima Counties.

Washington is home to more than 15,000 RMEF members and 25 chapters.

“We can’t say enough about our dedicated volunteers,” said Kyle Weaver, RMEF president and CEO. “They generate revenue by hosting banquets, membership drives and other events that goes back on the ground in Washington and around the country to benefit our conservation mission.”

Since 1985, RMEF and its partners completed 661 conservation and hunting heritage outreach projects in Washington with a combined value of more than $122.6 million. These projects protected or enhanced 479,785 acres of habitat and opened or improved public access to 125,245 acres.

Below is a listing of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation’s 2019 grants for the state of Washington.

Asotin County

  • Apply noxious weed treatment across 225 acres of public and private land to prevent the spread of rush skeletonweed, whitetop, spotted knapweed, hawkweeds and sulfur cinquefoil. RMEF supported the Asotin County weed control program since 2007.
  • Apply noxious weed treatment across 300 acres of Bureau of Land Management and private lands within the Lower Grande Ronde River drainages. The area provides prime habitat for fish, big game and native wildlife.
  • Apply noxious weed treatment across 500 acres within the Chief Joseph and W. T. Wooten Wildlife Areas where invasive weeds are a significant issue (also benefits Garfield and Columbia Counties).

Cowlitz County

  • Plant a variety of species within patches 3 to 10 acres in size, covering 60 total acres, to diversify elk and other wildlife habitat on the Mount St. Helens Wildlife Area.
  • Apply lime and fertilizer followed by planting trees, shrubs and a grass seed mix across 200 acres in the Toutle River Valley, home to the highest winter concentration of elk near Mount Saint Helen’s.
  • Treat noxious weeds across 150 acres within the Mount St. Helens Wildlife Area and Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument (also benefits Skamania County).

Kittitas County

  • Restore 732 acres within the 2018 Milepost 22 Wildfire burn zone that charred the L. T. Murray Wildlife Area, home to year-round winter habitat for elk and other wildlife. Crews will use both an aerial and ground-based approach to treat a potential noxious weed outbreak.

Lewis County

  • Provide funding for research on the Gifford Pinchot National Forest to monitor how and where elk seek and find forage in areas where timber production takes place. Results will inform managers of the potential role for variable density thinning in providing elk foraging habitat on the west slope of the Washington Cascades.

Okanogan County

  • Provide funding for the Mid Valley Archers Memorial Day Shoot, a family-friendly event focused on providing instruction and fun for archers of all ages.
  • Provide funding for the annual Bonaparte Lake Kid’s Fishing Day (also benefits Ferry County).

Pend Oreille County

  • Thin seedlings and small pole-sized trees from 33 acres of dense conifer stands in the Indian Creek watershed on the Colville National Forest. The area is winter and year-long range for the Selkirk elk herd.

Skamania County

  • Treat 1,215 acres of meadows and adjacent roads/right-of-ways on the south end of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. These meadows provide vital forage for the Mount St. Helens elk herd.
  • Transform six acres of mid-successional forest within the Upper Lewis River watershed into a grassy meadow to provide forage for big game species.

Stevens County

  • Provide funding for scientific research to conduct vegetation surveys across elk habitat that intersects with wolf range. Scientists will pair that information with elk movement and survivorship data to determine how human modifications of the landscape influence elk (also benefits Pend Oreille County).

Yakima County

  • Thin 426 acres on the Oak Creek Wildlife Area to promote high quality habitat for elk and other wildlife.
  • Restore native grasses and forbs to an estimated 350 acres on the Wenas Wildlife Area that was affected by the 2018 Buffalo Wildfire. Crews will apply noxious weed treatment followed by seeding.
  • Provide funding for the Kamiakin Roving Archers, a youth archery development league participant, to purchase archery supplies for the upcoming season. The program provides shooting instruction and training on archery equipment with an emphasis on safety and responsibility.

Skagit Wildlife Area Open House Coming Up As New 10-year Plan Development Begins

THE FOLLOWING IS A PRESS RELEASE FROM THE WASHINGTON DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND WILDLIFE

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) will hold a public open house March 28 to kick off a planning process for the Skagit Wildlife Area, which includes critical estuary and other habitat valuable to species such as waterfowl, shorebirds, and juvenile salmon.

SKAGIT WILDLIFE AREA DUCK HUNTERS WILL WANT TO PARTICIPATE IN DISCUSSIONS SETTING THE MANAGEMENT PATH OF THE POPULAR NORTH SOUND WATERFOWL HUNTING AREA THAT IS ALSO KEY HABITAT FOR YOUNG SALMONIDS. (ANDY WAlGAMOTT)

The wildlife area consists of 17,000 acres in Skagit, Snohomish, Island and San Juan counties. A huge portion – about 12,000 acres – of the wildlife area is estuary in Skagit County. The wildlife area contains wetlands, agricultural habitat, and natural areas managed for the protection of sensitive species.

The open house is from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. on Thursday, March 28, at the Padilla Bay Visitor Center at 10441 Bayview Edison Rd, Mount Vernon. There will be stations set up to showcase the different wildlife area.

The Skagit plan will propose actions for the management of the wildlife area over the next 10 years. The Skagit Wildlife Area is managed to preserve fish, wildlife and their habitats, and to provide access for hunting, fishing and wildlife watching, said Belinda Rotton, wildlife area manager.

At the upcoming open house, the public will be able to talk to individual WDFW staff members about wildlife area history, current management, recreational activities, and the planning process, Rotton said.

“We want to hear from the public about how people use this area and what recreation and natural resource values are important to them,” she said. “We’re also looking for interested citizens to sit on the wildlife area advisory committee.”

WDFW is seeking advisors to represent diverse interests including wildlife area neighbors, the agricultural community, and various recreational user groups such as wildlife watchers and hunters.

The Skagit Wildlife Area advisory committee will guide development of the wildlife area plan and ongoing management activities, Rotton said. Those interested in serving should contact her at 360-445-4441 or Belinda.Rotton@dfw.wa.gov.

Rotton said the public will have several opportunities to comment on the plan over the next year as a draft is developed.

She noted that the March 28 meeting will focus on management planning for the entire wildlife area, not specific actions at a specific location.

Information on the wildlife area is available on WDFW’s website at https://wdfw.wa.gov/lands/wildlife_areas/skagit/.

The department is revising management plans for all of its 33 wildlife areas to reflect current conditions and identify new priorities.

WDFW Looking For Comments On 9 Proposed Fish, Wildlife Acquisitions

Washington fish and wildlife managers are looking for public comment on whether they should acquire 4,000 acres of land for salmon, forage fish and critter habitat and public recreation.

WDFW IS LOOKING FOR PUBLIC COMMENT ON WHETHER TO SEEK FUNDING FOR NINE LAND BUYS, TRANSFERS AND DONATIONS ACROSS THE STATE TO PROTECT HABITAT AND ENHANCE FISHING AND HUNTING OPPORTUNTIES. (WDFW)

The nine projects would primarily pad state wildlife areas in Okanogan and northern Douglas Counties and protect estuaries on the Strait of Juan de Fuca, Hood Canal and Grays Harbor.

“This is an opportunity to comment on these proposals in the early stages of our strategic thinking,” said Cynthia Wilkerson, WDFW lands division manager, in a press release.

Comments will determine if the agency goes ahead and seeks funding from the legislature and other sources.

The largest is a proposed 2,180-acre land buy around the Central Ferry Unit of the Wells Wildlife Area west of Bridgeport.

“Acquisition will complement and protect area habitat and species including, Columbian sharp-tailed grouse, greater sage grouse and mule deer, while providing hunting, wildlife viewing, and other recreational opportunities,” a WDFW PDF states.

The buy has the support of Douglas County Commissioners, according to the agency.

On the other side of the Upper Columbia are proposed additions to the McLoughlin Falls (730 acres), Scotch Creek (220 acres) and Golden Doe (110 acres) Units of various wildlife areas in the Okanogan, Sinlahekin and Methow Valleys, respectively.

All would preserve deer and other wildlife habitat from development, while the Scotch Creek deal would be a trade, swapping for 80 acres of state wildlife area being leased for farming.

The three have the support of Okanogan County Commissioners, with the Colville Tribes also on board with the McLoughlin Falls deal along the Okanogan River between Tonasket and Riverside.

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In Western Washington, WDFW would be transferred 300 acres on the lower end of Big Beef Creek, “one of the largest, most intact watersheds in Kitsap County.”

“Ownership of this property would support continuation of a current restoration project,” an agency write-up states. “Additionally, Big Beef Creek is the only system in Hood Canal where state and tribal fishery managers have enough annual coho salmon out-migrants to mark wild coho salmon for marine survival and harvest forecast.”

It has the support three local tribes, county, DNR, Hood Canal Salmon Enhancement Group and others.

On the southern shore of Grays Harbor, WDFW would accept a 257-acre donation, protecting habitat and recreational opportunities, and link two other state-managed parcels.

A proposed 216-acre acquisition at the mouth of West Twin River would protect, enhance and restore over half a mile of saltwater shoreline between Port Angeles and Sekiu, including important eel grass beds and spawning areas for surf smelt, and 14,000 feet of riparian habitat in the stream, “one of the most important coho and steelhead systems in the strait.”

Federal researchers found that wild winter-run steelhead in West and East Twin Rivers have 18 different life histories.

A DNR SHORELINE PHOTO SHOWS THE MOUTH OF THE WEST TWIN RIVER. (DNR)

Two others are located on the Duckabush delta (.76 acre) and Lake Lenore (160 acres from state parks).

To learn more about the projects, go here .

Written comments are being taken through Feb. 25 by emailing lands@dfw.wa.gov.

 

Strong Salmon Habitat Bill Would Also Declassify Popular Fish Species

Washington fishermen and others spoke yesterday in Olympia in support of an orca bill that primarily would increase salmon habitat protections, but concern was also expressed over one part that targets popular game fish.

Under House Bill 1579 and similar legislation introduced in the Senate, walleye, smallmouth and largemouth bass and channel catfish would be removed from the list of regulated species in Evergreen State waters.

A TRI-CITIES ANGLER HAD A T-SHIRT MADE OF COLUMBIA RIVER WALLEYE AND CHINOOK HE’S CAUGHT AND THAT HAVE APPEARED ON THE COVER OF NORTHWEST SPORTSMAN MAGAZINE. (JERRY HAN)

The idea came out of Governor Jay Inslee’s orca task force last year, and citing the plight of southern resident killer whales and the lack of Chinook as one of the limiting factors for the state’s J, K and L pods, prime sponsor Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon called removing limits on the species a “common sense” solution.

I think we should do everything we can to encourage recreational fisheries to catch as many of those fish as possible so that they’re not predating on Chinook salmon,” the Burien Democrat said during a public hearing before Rep. Brian Blake’s Rural Development, Agriculture, & Natural Resources Committee.

The four nonnative warmwater species and Chinook primarily overlap in the Columbia below Chief Joseph Dam and in much of the Snake, but also occur in other places such as Lake Washington and portions of warmer rivers such as the lower Yakima and Grande Ronde.

No data was referenced during the hearing, which was televised on TVW, but a 2017 paper by federal researchers found Chinook smolts to be the second largest component of the diets of shoreline-running Snake River smallies between April and September from 2013 to 2015. Idaho kings are among important SRKW feedstocks, according to federal and state biologists.

But the removal of bass, walleye and whiskerfish from game fish status worries some anglers, even as they support the rest of the bill.

Ryley Fee of Puget Sound Anglers said that restoring and protecting habitat is the best long-term hope for recovering salmon and that the bill had “big teeth” in that regard.

We must give the state agencies the effective tools and civil-regulated authority to dissuade anyone from illegally damaging the remaining environment that we have,” he said.

However, Fee asked lawmakers to modify the broad-brush declassification of the four species.

For instance, he suggested only removing the game fish designation in habitats where ocean-going salmon occur and “not in lakes where there are valuable recreational fishing opportunities.”

RYLEY FEE OF PUGET SOUND ANGLERS SPEAKS BEFORE A STATE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES COMMITTEE ON A BILL THAT WOULD ADD “BIG TEETH” TO SALMON HABITAT PROTECTIONS BUT WOULD ALSO DECLASSIFY FOUR FISH SPECIES POPULAR WITH ANGLERS. (TVW)

He proposed two options, listing them as “exotic species” in select watersheds to make the regs more clear, or retaining the game fish designation but liberalizing the bag limits where need be.

Currently in the Columbia and its tributaries below Chief Joe there are no minimum size or daily limits on walleye, bass or catfish, but elsewhere the species generally fall under statewide rules with certain size and bag restrictions.

The bill comes as walleye are increasingly popular to fish for in the big river, with anglers flocking from as far away as the species’ Upper Midwest home waters to try and land the next world record, while local fishermen hope to best John Grubenhoff’s 20-pounder.

And bugeyes, as they’re also known, were among the hits at last weekend’s Washington Sportsmen’s Show in Puyallup.

After the hearing, WDFW legislative liaison Raquel Crosier said that the agency was working on tweaks to the game fish designations.

“We want to make sure anglers are a part of the solution, so we are working with the sponsor to see if we can amend that section of the bill to liberalize bag limits without removing those species from the game fish list,” Crosier said. “Hearing lots of concerns from bass anglers and want to see those concerns addressed. The sponsor is eager to work on addressing these concerns.”

As for the rest of the bill, agency assistant director Jeff Davis expressed support, calling it “really darn important” for protecting SRKWs, salmon recovery investments and comanaged fisheries.

HB 1579 primarily addresses state hydraulic codes and enforcement and among those also speaking in favor were representatives from two tribal organizations and Jacques White of Long Live The Kings.

A SUMMARY OF HB 1579 BY NONPARTISAN LEGISLATIVE STAFF LAYS OUT THE CURRENT BILL’S IMPACTS ON GAME FISH SPECIES AND HYDRAULIC CODE ENFORCEMENT. (WASHINGTON LEGISLATURE)

White spoke to how armoring of Puget Sound’s shorelines has affected forage fish spawning areas and that 50 percent fewer Chinook smolts make it out of the inland sea than they once did.

It turns out that the forage fish are a critical element in the health of those juvenile Chinook,” he told lawmakers. “Juvenile Chinook populations 10 or 15 years ago relied heavily on herring in their diet and now they’re relying on crab larvae. Now, I like crab larvae better than I like herring, but apparently our salmon really want to see herring in the water column and in their diet.”

He said forage fish like herring also represent an alternate food source for harbor seals that are otherwise having to prey on Chinook.

“So this bill, I think, is a critical step in us protecting this important habitat,” he said.

However, a representative from the Association of Washington Businesses expressed concerns about the bill’s Hydraulic Project Approval provisions, while another from the Farm Bureau reminded lawmakers that it would affect operations across the state, not just in Puget Sound, and a third from the building industry association was opposed because it impacts how streamlined the process for putting in bulkheads currently is.