Grants will aid Thurston County gopher, butterfly, frog recovery

A federal grant through the Endangered Species Act will help protect Thurston County habitat for list species, such as the Taylor checkerspot butterfly.
A federal grant through the Endangered Species Act will help protect Thurston County habitat for list species, such as the Taylor checkerspot butterfly. Staff file, 2009

Two Thurston County projects will receive more than $2.5 million of more than $6 million in grants earmarked for Washington projects under the Endangered Species Act.

The funds were part of $44.8 million going to projects in 20 states, coming through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Cooperative Endangered Species Conservation Fund. The grants were announced Sept. 15.

Locally, $2 million will go to the West Rocky Prairie project in Thurston County. The West Rocky Prairie acquisition will protect one of the largest available tracts of mima mounded prairie-oak wetland habitat in western Washington, according to a news release from the Fish and Wildlife Service. The project will provide habitat to enhance or reintroduce listed species, such as Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly, Mazama pocket gopher, Oregon spotted frog, golden paintbrush and water howellia. The acquisition will protect the headwaters of salmon-bearing Allen and Beaver Creeks. This phase of the project will add a key parcel to the 3,615-acre conservation network between Millersylvania State Park, McIntosh Tree Farm, Rocky Prairie Natural Area Preserve and West Rocky Prairie Wildlife Area. This property would be one of 10 prairies conserved by the South Puget Sound Prairie Landscape Working Group across 105 square miles.

Another $600,000 grant will go to the South Puget Sound Prairie species conservation effort in Thurston County. This project will acquire a conservation easement on a 90-acre working farm inhabited by the listed Mazama pocket gopher. Pocket gophers in South Puget Sound inhabit some of the most productive agricultural soils and prime development land. This project will demonstrate that pocket gophers and agriculture can coexist, which would reduce disruption of the local economy, according to the news release. Acquiring an easement on this property will protect the existing population of Mazama pocket gophers and be the first reserve priority area conserved under the multi-agency Mazama Pocket Gopher Reserve System.

For the other Washington projects, $2 million is to acquire and permanently protect 1,415 acres of habitat in the Mount Si area. Protecting this old-growth area would benefit the marbled murrelet, northern spotted owl, gray wolf and 11 unlisted species, including the Pacific fisher and wolverine. This is the second phase of an acquisition program and will fill significant voids in the matrix of protected state and federal lands, and prevent further fragmentation of high-quality habitat.

Another $2 million will to the Grand Coulee Ranch in Douglas County. The ranch project is part of an ongoing effort by the state Department of Fish Wildlife to conserve more than 20,500 acres of shrub-steppe habitat. The grant will help the department acquire more than 4,250 acres. The land is suitable for conservation of the Columbia Basin pygmy rabbit, greater sage-grouse, Washington ground squirrel and Columbian sharp-tailed grouse. The acquisition will provide public access to a new natural area with roughly 13 miles of shoreline along the Columbia River’s Rufus Woods Reservoir.