Preserving prairie helps JBLM

Staff writerJuly 11, 2013 

State targets landowner's gopher battle

FILE - The Mazama pocket gopher. (Curtis Wambach/PE Consultants)

An environmental preservation effort aimed at keeping endangered species alive while freeing the Army to use its valuable South Sound training grounds is receiving a $12.6 million boost from governments and nonprofit organizations.

Joint Base Lewis-McChord and its neighbors were chosen for a test project partnering community organizations with the federal Defense, Interior and Agriculture departments.

They’ll use the money to buy and preserve land outside the base to protect species such as Mazama pocket gophers, Taylor’s checkerspot butterflies and streaked horned larks. It could be used to purchase and set aside land, or to support agricultural easements that allow farmers and ranchers to continue using their property.

All three creatures could be added to the endangered species list, part of a year-long process that began in December.

A piece of land already has been purchased in Tenino and will be dedicated during a ceremony Friday morning.

“Thurston County Commissioners are working hard to protect agriculture and restore our prairies,” County Commissioner Sandra Romero said. “This partnership is a cost-effective example of where we can achieve multiple goals including sustainable agriculture, endangered and threatened species protection, and drinking water protection.

“Leveraging our limited county resources with our partners is the way forward.”

Lewis-McChord, a military installation since 1917, contains prime habitat for those species in large part because the Army maintained open spaces for training exercises. As the land developed outside the base, the remaining habitat became more important for the threatened species.

The surge in funding also should reduce pressure on the Army to scale back training. That’s important because the military is shrinking, and civilian and military officials want to demonstrate that the base continues to have a vital purpose in the nation’s defense.

The program could be replicated in other military communities around the country.

“This arrangement benefits our service members and is an innovative, efficient use of taxpayer resources,” said John Conger, Defense acting deputy undersecretary for installations and environment, in a news release.

The money builds on a Pentagon announcement last month that said the military would set aside $3.5 million for prairie preservation efforts in Pierce and Thurston counties.

That money is part of the broader project announced Wednesday by Conger, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, the former Puget Sound resident and CEO of outdoor retailer Recreational Equipment Inc.

“(The) announcement is a win-win for the American people and for the land and wildlife we cherish,” Jewell said in a news release. “We are taking an important step in addressing one of the greatest threats to wildlife in America today, loss of habitat, while helping to ensure the preservation of working landscapes and our military readiness.”

All together, the project will receive:

 • About $4.1 million from the Defense Department and the Army.

 • $3 million from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

 • $1.8 million from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

 • $3.6 million from state and local government sources.

 • And, noncash contributions from other local organizations.

“It’s a result of long-standing cooperation of all the partners,” said Hannah Anderson, regional rare species program manage for the Center for Natural Lands Management Washington program. “This is built on the shoulders of years and years and years of people working together.”

Staff writer Chelsea Krotzer contributed to this report.

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