State budget funds prairie, wetland restoration in Thurston, Grays Harbor counties

Four state-funded projects will help restore wetlands, watersheds, prairies and endangered species in the Capitol State Forest, according to the Capitol Land Trust and The Center for Natural Lands Management.

The Legislature awarded approximately $11.2 million in its capital budget for the Washington Coast Restoration Initiative, 22 coastal habitat protection and restoration projects in Western Washington.

Four of the projects will focus on restoration of prairies and wetlands in the area surrounding Capitol State Forest in Thurston and Grays Harbor counties.

Amanda Reed, executive director of Capitol Land Trust, said the projects are somewhat interconnected.

“The creeks are all salmon-bearing creeks,” she said. “A lot of this restoration work is really important for the salmon. The Black River is a huge tributary to the Chehalis.”

Capitol Land Trust will sponsor two of the projects: Darlin Creek restoration and conservation, and Black River Watershed conservation and restoration.

The Darlin Creek project will protect 313 acres of diverse wetland and riparian habitat between Capitol State Forest and the Black River Wildlife Refuge that is currently intended for development.

The site includes more than 2 miles of fish-bearing streams flowing into the Black River that provide habitat for the endangered Oregon spotted frog.

The project will include both acquisition of 300 acres of land in the Black River Watershed and restoration of the land, and is slated to receive $1.3 million in state money.

One aspect of the project will be to repair or replace a culvert acting as a barrier to fish passage.

“There’s a perched culvert on that property,” Reed said. “Essentially it’s on a ... pretty steep hill, so the culvert goes into the ground on the upstream, and when it comes out on the downstream, it’s in the air.”

Water can go through the culvert, she said, but fish can’t make the 3-foot leap to the culvert’s downstream outlet.

“Ultimately we want to put in a walking trail on that preserve and have the public come in and experience it,” Reed said.

The Darlin Creek project also will connect two existing protected areas: the Capitol State Forest and the Black River Wildlife Refuge.

“It helps with any sort of bird, mammal movement and migration,” Reed said. “It’s kind of like a big steppingstone.”

Capitol Land Trust will sponsor restoration of habitat along the Black River by planting buffers along the river to improve wildlife habitat, protect water quality and provide flood control.

The organization is slated to receive $650,000 for the project, which will benefit as many as five properties in southern Thurston County, Reed said.

Reed said these projects will follow the example of a similar restoration project at Black River Farm in Thurston County. In that case, Capitol Land Trust bought a conservation easement on the farm, allowing the landowner to continue to farm, but preventing any further development or subdivision of the land.

“We need to take out the invasive species over 6 acres and then replant it with native species,” Reed said.

The work will take about two years, she said.

The Center for Natural Lands Management also will sponsor two projects: restoration of south Puget Sound prairies and wetlands, and Satsop River Watershed restoration.

In the first project, the organization plans to use $200,000 of the state money to fund ongoing habitat restoration for endangered or threatened prairie and wetland species. The project will include replacing invasive species with native plants and conducting planned burns to reduce moss cover.

Specifically, the project is designed to restore habitat for federally endangered species such as the Mazama pocket gopher, Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly and the streaked horned lark, said Patrick Dunn, director of The Center for Natural Lands Management’s South Sound Program.

“By improving those populations, we boost the baseline of those species and move it toward recovery,” Dunn said. “We’ve already established multiple new populations of the butterfly.”

The project complements other habitat restoration efforts in the South Sound area, Dunn said, such as those initiated by Joint Base Lewis McChord, private landowners and farmers, and a Thurston County voluntary environmental stewardship plan currently being designed.

In the second project, which receives $150,000 of the state money, the center will restore about 50 acres of riparian habitat on the Satsop River Watershed, removing invasive knotweed, Dunn said.

Dunn said the Satsop River is “really one of the most important rivers in Washington for conservation and biodiversity.”

The river hosts salmon runs, including some chinook runs not seen in other rivers, Dunn said.