Central Washington and Montana projects were the big winners this year in grant awards of more than $53 million to 17 states announced Wednesday by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.
The grants aim to support conservation planning and acquisition of vital habitat for threatened and endangered fish, wildlife and plants. The grants are awarded through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Cooperative Endangered Species Conservation Fund and will benefit numerous imperiled species ranging from the Peninsular bighorn sheep to the Karner blue butterfly.
The program provides funding to states and territories for species and habitat conservation actions on non-federal lands. States and territories must contribute a minimum non-federal match of 25 percent of the estimated program costs of approved projects, or 10 percent when two or more states or territories implement a joint project.
A state or territory must currently have, or enter into, a cooperative agreement with the Secretary of the Interior to receive grants. Most have entered into these agreements for both plant and animal species
In Washington, state partners will receive over $4.6 million in grants benefiting dozens of species statewide through planning and conservation acquisitions.
Those projects include the Methow Watershed, Phase 8, in Okanogan County, Wash., with a $3.5 million grant award through the USFWS program.
The Methow, Phase 8 project will secure 2,700 acres and additional stream frontage protecting spawning and rearing habitat for listed salmonids, landscape corridors for listed carnivores and their mule deer prey, and habitat for at least 23 at-risk species covered by the Plum Creek Habitat Conservation Plan.
The Methow River Watershed is perhaps the most intact and ecologically functional major drainage in eastern Washington, supporting a unique and diverse assemblage of fish and wildlife species, according to information provided by the USFWS. Nationally, it is one of the few places where endangered and threatened grizzly bears, gray wolves, lynx, bull trout, and salmon occur together, and it is the home of Washington’s first documented wolf pack.
Other funded projects in Washington include:
-- Northern Blue Mountains Bull Trout Recovery (Asotin & Columbia counties) $712,650 -- This project will conserve bull trout habitat through a combination of fee acquisition and conservation easements on at least five key properties totaling 2,872 acres along the northern rim of the Umatilla National Forest in both the Touchet River and Asotin Creek watersheds. These efforts will also protect important winter range for populations of elk and deer in the Blue Mountains of southeast Washington, thereby providing the primary food source for natural re-colonization by gray wolves.
-- South Puget Sound Prairie HCP (Thurston County) $450,000 -- This project will initiate the development of a plan to support some of the best remaining habitats and restoration sites in Thurston County. It will identify a set of tools needed to supplement more traditional conservation strategies and achieve the long-term preservation of a network of habitats needed by over 16 species of concern for survival such as the golden paintbrush, water howellia, Mardon skipper, mazama pocket gopher, and Taylor's checkerspot.
One grant was awarded in Montana, the Stimson Forestlands Conservation Project (Missoula County) $4 million.
This grant will fund a conservation easement on over 9,300 acres of forestland. The property is concurrent with another conservation easement on 18,700 acres of adjacent lands. This project is a continuation of several years of landscape-scale conservation efforts on working lands in northwestern Montana to complement the Native Fish Habitat Conservation Plan, benefitting bull trout, Columbia redband trout, mountain whitefish, pygmy whitefish, and westslope cutthroat trout.
This effort will ensure the availability of high quality riparian and in-stream habitat by protecting against imminent development threats. It will also maintain connectivity between lake, river, and stream systems in the Lake Creek drainage and help native fish species’ adaptation to the effects of climate change so that fish can move to more suitable habitats as water temperatures increase and flow regimes change.
Projects funded in Oregon include:
-- Upper Deschutes Basin Habitat Conservation Plan (Jefferson, Crook, and Deschutes counties) $410,000 -- This funding will continue work for the seven primary irrigation districts in the Deschutes Basin that comprise the Deschutes Basin Board of Control and the City of Prineville. The development of this HCP will benefit aquatic and riparian-dependant species in the upper Deschutes Basin, including bull trout and steelhead, while meeting current and future irrigation and municipal water needs in a balanced, economically viable, and sustainable manner. When completed, the HCP will provide ecosystem benefits to large areas of the upper Deschutes River basin, which includes the Metolius, Crooked, and Deschutes river basins.
-- Yamhill Oaks -- Pugh Acquisition (Yamhill County) $267,000 -- The Nature Conservancy, as a sub-grantee to the Oregon Department of State Lands, will secure the permanent protection of the 48-acre Pugh property and manage the tract as an addition to the 272-acre Yamhill Oaks Preserve. The property supports habitat for six federally listed species, including Fender’s blue butterfly, Kincaid’s lupine, golden paintbrush, Willamette daisy, Bradshaw’s lomatium, Nelson’s checkermallow, and an additional 19 at risk or species of concern.
-- Willamette Valley Species Conservation Easement (Yamhill County) $500,000 -- This grant funds the acquisition of a permanent conservation easement on 284.6 acres of upland and riparian habitat in the Mount Richmond Conservation Opportunity Area of Yamhill County. The easement will benefit critically-important populations of Fender’s blue butterfly, Kincaid’s lupine, and Nelson’s checkermallow.
“Our solid partnership with states is clearly a major key to the Interior Department’s success in conserving and recovering threatened and endangered species throughout this country,” Salazar said. “These grant awards will support numerous state efforts aimed at building and strengthening vital conservation partnerships with local groups and private landowners to benefit threatened and endangered wildlife and plants.”
Authorized by Section 6 of the Endangered Species Act, the competitive grants enable states to work with private landowners, conservation groups and other agencies to initiate cost-effective conservation planning efforts and acquire and protect habitat to support the conservation of threatened and endangered species.
This year, the CESCF will provide approximately $10.7 million nationally through the Habitat Conservation Planning Assistance Grants Program, $28.6 million nationally through the Habitat Conservation Plan Land Acquisition Grants Program, and $14 million nationally through the Recovery Land Acquisition Grants Program. The three programs were established to help advance creative partnerships for imperiled species conservation recovery.
A complete list of the National 2011 grant awards under these programs (Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance Number 15.615) is available online at http://www.fws.gov/endangered/grants/index.html.
Habitat Conservation Plans are agreements between a landowner and the USFWS. These agreements allow a landowner to undertake otherwise lawful activities on their property, even if they may impact listed species, when that landowner agrees to conservation measures designed to minimize and mitigate the impact of those actions. HCPs may also be developed by a county or state to cover certain activities of all landowners within their jurisdiction and may address multiple species.
The HCP Planning Assistance Grants Program provides grants to states and territories to support the development of HCPs through the funding of baseline surveys and inventories, document preparation, outreach, and similar planning activities.
Under the HCP Land Acquisition Grants Program, the Service provides grants to states or territories for land acquisition that complement the conservation objectives of approved HCPs.
The Recovery Land Acquisition Grants Program provides funds to states and territories to acquire habitat for endangered and threatened species having approved recovery plans. Habitat acquisition to secure long-term protection is often an essential element of a comprehensive recovery effort for a listed species.