2010 Land Line News Notes

“Land Line” News Notes are produced for e-mail distribution about 10 times a year to provide information about department land management on both public and private land for fish and wildlife habitat needs and for recreation such as hunting, wildlife watching, fishing, camping, hiking, and boating.

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November 2010

Sustainable funding proposed for state lands

Wildlife area maintainenceState lands are crucial to Washington’s quality of life—providing habitat for fish and wildlife, and access for recreation activities that generate billions of dollars annually for Washington’s economy.

Spending by recreational fishers, hunters, wildlife watchers, boaters, hikers, horseback riders and other users of state lands supports small businesses and creates jobs across Washington, particularly in rural communities.

But the economic engine, conservation benefit, and recreation access offered by state lands all are at risk due to the lack of stable, sustainable funding for land maintenance.

The state budget crisis has left its mark on an array of important state services, including state lands. As state revenues declined during the current recession, state General Fund support to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) has been slashed by 33 percent in the current 2009-11 biennium. More cuts are expected in the coming 2011-13 biennium.

This budget crisis has taken a toll on WDFW’s ability to care for the 900,000 acres of recreational land and 700 water-access sites the agency manages. WDFW’s land operation and management budget has been cut by nearly $2 million over the past several years, from $10.8 million to an anticipated $8 million next biennium. As state revenues continue to decline those cuts could grow deeper.

“Even before the budget crisis, we faced a backlog of maintenance needs on state lands, including weed control, habitat restoration, fencing, visitor facilities and other infrastructure needs,” said WDFW Lands Program Manager Jennifer Quan.” We recruit volunteers for some of this work, but we still need to fund equipment, materials and professional staff to coordinate projects.”

Unless new funding sources can be found to address critical operation and maintenance needs, some of these recreation lands face closure.

Over 5.6 million acres of state recreation lands managed by the Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) face similar threats. The Sustainable Recreation Work Group, a citizen panel created by the Washington Legislature in 2008, recognized the need for a long-term, dedicated funding source for maintenance of state recreation lands. Based on this panel’s recommendations DNR proposed legislation in the 2010 legislative session to have the ability to charge an access fee. The proposed legislation made it through the house but ran out of time in the Senate.

For the 2011 legislative session, the DNR and WDFW are jointly proposing new legislation to create stable, dedicated funding for state recreation lands. The legislative proposal includes several key features:

  • An increase in the portion of Washington’s gas tax revenues available to DNR, WDFW and Washington State Parks for managing recreation lands for boaters, snowmobilers and off-road vehicle riders. The proposal would calculate the one percent refund on the full 37.5-cent-per-gallon gas tax base, rather than at the current 22 cent-per-gallon rate, beginning in 2013. The gas tax refund change would provide about $250,000 annually in new funds for WDFW lands.
  • An “Explore Washington Pass” for access to WDFW and DNR lands. This pass would replace WDFW’s current annual vehicle-use permit. Under the proposal, annual lands access pass would be $40 for general users age 19 and older, or $5 for those purchasing fishing or hunting licenses or a watchable-wildlife package. Short-term passes would be available at $20 for a three-day pass; $15 for a two-day pass; and $10 for a one-day pass. The passes would be sold through WDFW’s existing WILD recreational licensing system. Revenue from the new pass, estimated at $5.5 million annually, would be split between WDFW and DNR for land management capital, operational, maintenance and enforcement needs.
  • A $10 increase in the cost of personalized license plates (raising the cost of new plates from $42 to $52, and renewals from $32 to $42 annually). The change would generate an estimated $1.3 million in additional revenue each biennium, dedicated to habitat work for threatened and endangered species on WDFW lands.
  • Provisions that would allow WDFW and DNR to jointly enforce land use regulations, and would allow the agencies to seek restitution from those who damage state lands.

Comments on this legislative proposal can be emailed to explore@dnr.wa.gov . Updates on the funding proposal will be available through future Landline news notes and on WDFW’s website.

Detailed information about recreational opportunities on WDFW Wildlife Areas can be found at http://wdfw.wa.gov/lands/wildlife_areas/. Water access sites (boat launch) information can be found at http://wdfw.wa.gov/lands/water_access/.


 

October 2010

Wanted: Your input on proposed ESA-coverage plan for state wildlife areas

Comments will be taken through Nov. 1 and public meetings are scheduled Oct. 19-27 on a proposed plan that would provide Endangered Species Act (ESA) compliance coverage for Washington state wildlife areas.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) set a 30-day public scoping period for a proposed Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) covering the 32 wildlife areas managed by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). The scoping is part of an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) required under the National Environmental Policy Act.

WDFW’s proposed HCP includes a federal incidental "take" permit to allow standard land management and operations activities, agriculture, and recreation on its wildlife areas. Those approximately 900,000 acres of WDFW-owned or managed lands host fish, wildlife, invertebrate and plant species that are ESA-protected. If granted, the permit would authorize the incidental take of 32 listed species, plus 20 unlisted species should they become listed under the ESA during the term of the HCP.

Swale Creek Fencing

In other words, things like road and fence maintenance, habitat restoration, and horseback riding on a state wildlife area could continue even if a protected species was unintentionally harmed, provided that conservation measures in the plan are implemented to minimize and mitigate any harm.

Detailed information on the project is available at http://www.fws.gov/wafwo/.

Four public scoping meetings, all 6:30 - 8:30 p.m., have been scheduled as follows:

  • Tues., Oct. 19, at Everett Community College, 2000 Tower Street, Whitehorse Hall, Room 105, Everett
  • Wed., Oct. 20, at FWS and NMFS Office, 510 Desmond Drive, Sawyer Hall, Lacey
  • Tues., Oct. 26, at Hal Homes Center, 209 N. Ruby Street, Teanaway Room, Ellensburg
  • Wed., Oct. 27, at Spokane Valley Center Place, 2426 N. Discovery Place, Room 109, Spokane Valley.

FWS is accepting all comments through Nov. 1 on the scope of the EIS, the range of alternatives, and the impacts that should be analyzed at: wdfwwlareahcp@fws.gov.


September 2010

Yellow starthistleWDFW wages war on weeds

Weeds don’t make good fish and wildlife habitat.

That’s why control of invasive, exotic vegetation is a priority on Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) lands and weed management is an integral part of all management plans for the 28 wildlife area complexes across the state.

“Weed control is not only good land stewardship,” said David Heimer, WDFW Statewide Weed Management Coordinator, “but it’s also being a good neighbor to adjacent private and other public lands. We work with federal, tribal and other state agencies, county weed boards, non-profit organizations, and private citizens to develop cost efficient solutions for weed problems.”

Using Integrated Pest Management (IPM) -- a prioritizing and decision-making model for choosing the most effective, environmentally sensitive and economical pest control strategies -- WDFW wages war on a variety of weeds in a variety of ways.

Spartina is an aggressive, non-native grass that displaces native plants and animals in Washington’s intertidal and estuarine environments. Through a cooperative effort with other agencies, non-profits and landowners, and using multiple control methods from hand-pulling to herbicide application, Spartina has been reduced by 99 percent state-wide. Still, thousands of acres must be re-surveyed annually to treat any remaining Spartina plants to reach the legislatively-mandated goal of eradication.

Purple loosestrife and Phragmites can displace native freshwater aquatic plants like cattails and bulrushes that everything from freshwater fish to furbearing mammals depend on for cover or food. WDFW participated in the development and release of the highly successful biocontrol, Gallerucella, a beetle that defoliates purple loosestrife. In the Columbia Basin, Galerucella has been so successful that the invasive grass Phragmites has invaded areas where loosestrife has been controlled. The invasive biotype of Phragmites grows over 12 feet high and creates barriers for wildlife and recreation in wetlands and along shorelines. Hundreds of acres in the Columbia Basin are treated each year to improve access and reduce the spread of this weed. In addition, Washington and Oregon resource agencies and Portland State University met this year to discuss developing a Phragmites management approach for the Columbia River to avoid the loss of wetland habitat that has occurred on the East Coast.

Knapweeds (diffuse, meadow, Russian, spotted) are some of the toughest and most widespread weeds throughout Washington. Many eastside wildlife areas (Chelan, Driscoll Island, Oak Creek, Sinlahekin, etc.) battle them with herbicide spraying, mowing, and plowing every year. Biological controls for knapweed have been an increasingly effective weed control method, especially when multiple insect species are combined. On the Sinlahekin Wildlife Area the biocontrols include the following weed-eating insects ( Larinus minutus, Sphenoptera jugoslavia, Urophora quadrafaciata, Urophora affinis, and Cyphocleonus achates). Although knapweed is not completely eliminated, it is reduced to tolerable levels most of the time.

Yellow starthistle can be a thorny problem for native grasslands and is toxic to horses.  Once established, yellow starthistle can reduce the diversity of the native plant community by forming monocultures. Early identification and control before seed production is essential. This year the Mule Deer Foundation and Blue Mountains Elk Initiative funded treatment of 160 acres of yellow starthistle on the Wooten Wildlife Area, improving habitat on site and protecting neighboring lands from becoming infested.

Dalmatian toadflax is controlled with release of beetles (Mecinus janthinus) that eat the weed. Some 1,500 of the toadflax-consuming bugs were recently released on the Chelan Wildlife Area. The Methow and Sagebrush Flat wildlife areas have these bioagents well-established to keep infestations under control. Oak Creek Wildlife Area staff has been working closely with the Yakima County Noxious Weed Board in the last few years to address the recent rapid spread of Dalmatian toadflax, particularly along the Naches River and the Highway 410 corridor. Beetles have been released on both public and private lands along the highway and their control of the weeds is being monitored by both WDFW and the weed board.

Heimer noted that “cultural weed control” is a significant part of WDFW’s weed strategy. Cultural control is the action of planting native and beneficial vegetation to compete with weeds. This may include restoring a weed infested field with native vegetation or reseeding lands after a wildfire to prevent weed invasions. Cultural weed control efforts are performed as habitat improvement projects requiring additional planning, equipment, and funding above basic operation and maintenance.

Heimer says these restoration and enhancement projects, often funded by outside sources like the Bonneville Power Administration and the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program, serve three purposes. They reduce the amount of weed control needed, they reduce the spread of weeds to adjacent lands, and they provide more quality habitat for wildlife on WDFW lands. Examples of this work can be seen at Scotch Creek, Swanson Lakes and Asotin wildlife areas where hundreds of acres of weed infested fields have been re-planted with native grasses and shrubs.

For more information about other weed control on WDFW lands, see specific wildlife area management plans at
http://wdfw.wa.gov/lands/wildlife_areas/management_plans/.


July 2010

WDFW wildfire prevention and control efforts need cooperation

Tuccannon fire

The 900,000-plus acres of wildlife areas and water access sites under Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) management across the state are as vulnerable to wildfire at this time of year as any public lands.

Although WDFW land management staff spends considerable time in wildfire preventive efforts, they need experts for fire suppression work and the cooperation of recreationists and neighbors to be successful.

“We’re not firefighters,” said WDFW lands manager Paul Dahmer. “Our field staff gets basic wildfire training, but we contract with DNR (Department of Natural Resources) and local fire districts for actual fire suppression.”

Dahmer said all wildlife area complex management plans include fire control chapters, detailing actions to take before, during and after burns to minimize problems like erosion, weed invasion, and sedimentation of fish-bearing streams. Preventive steps include building fire breaks and reducing fuels through timber thinning or prescribed burns.

“We use prescribed burns to enhance wildlife habitat, too,” Dahmer said, “which makes fire training for our staff important for our own habitat goals, beyond wildfire prevention and control.”

WDFW’s properties on the east and typically drier side of the state have suffered most from wildfires. With drier than normal conditions last year, fires burned parts of the Wenas and Oak Creek Wildlife Areas. In 2008, fires burned 3,500 acres on parts of the Columbia Basin, Colockum, Scotch Creek, Wenas, and Swanson Lakes wildlife areas. Wildfires burned some 8,500 acres of the Asotin Wildlife Area in 2007.

Although lightning strikes during summer storms start some fires, people cause 85 percent of Washington’s wildfires according to DNR records.

“That’s why we need the cooperation of recreationists visiting our lands,” Dahmer said. “Caution and common sense are needed, starting with fire restriction compliance.”

All WDFW properties have restrictions on campfires and prohibit all fireworks. Where campfires are allowed, they usually are restricted to metal fire rings and must be kept to less than three feet in height and diameter.

All WDFW properties restrict motor vehicle traffic to established roads, both to minimize disturbance to habitat and wildlife and to reduce chances of sparking fires on dry ground cover.

Specific rules can be found at http://wdfw.wa.gov/lands/wildlife_areas/public_conduct.html.

This year, with an unusually long, cold, wet spring, WDFW land managers fear that recreationists will be less careful because they think fire danger is low. But those conditions actually made for extraordinarily lush vegetation that is now drying out and becoming fuel for wildfire.

Those recreating outdoors should follow these DNR campfire safety tips:

  • Never start a campfire when wind is strong or local conditions are so dry that fire danger is high
  • Use a screen over and around a campfire to minimize sparks flying out
  • Keep fires less than three feet in height and diameter
  • Keep five gallons of water and a shovel nearby
  • Never leave fires unattended
  • Extinguish a fire by drowning it thoroughly with water, stirring until cold, and then drowning it again

Fire-danger levels and burn ban information is available at http://fortress.wa.gov/dnr/firedanger/BurnRisk.aspx.

To report a wildfire or unattended campfire call 1(800) 562-6010 or 911.


May 2010

Counties receive tax payments from WDFW

Last month WDFW completed annual payments to 31 of Washington’s 39 counties totaling $1,177,164.63 for Payments In Lieu of Taxes (PILT) and local assessments on WDFW-owned land.

The PILT totaled $845,121.74 to 14 counties covering 491,128.99 acres of WDFW-owned land. Assessments totaled $332,042.89 to 28 counties for weed control, fire protection, storm water control, irrigation, and other services provided by lake management districts and conservation districts.

WDFW is the only state agency that makes in-lieu tax payments on property it owns and manages.

Each county can either retain game violation fines and forfeitures collected by WDFW within the county, or elect to receive in lieu taxes on WDFW property of at least 100 contiguous acres. (PILT is not paid on department buildings, structures, facilities, game farms, fish hatcheries, tidelands, or public fishing areas of less than 100 acres.)

Most counties that have significant WDFW acreage choose to receive the in lieu payments. In most cases, the payments are equivalent to or more than counties would receive if the property was privately owned and held in open space classification for agriculture or forestry activities.

By state law (Revised Code of Washington 77.12.203), counties electing to collect PILT have their choice of three rates. They may: 1) collect an amount equal to that amount paid on similar parcels of private land held in open space tax classification or 2) collect the greater of 70 cents per acre or 3) collect the amount paid in 1984.


March 2010

New help for landowners helping sage-grouse

If you’re an eastern or central Washington landowner with sage-grouse habitat and expiring Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acres, new federal funding is available to you this Spring.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has a new initiative for eligible producers to receive up to three years of payments for retaining sage-grouse habitat on expiring CRP contracts, and for installing habitat-enhancing practices that benefit the species.

The sign-up deadline for the new program is April 23, 2010.

WDFW’s Private Lands Coordinator Don Larsen says it’s a great opportunity for landowners who are helping this state threatened and federal candidate species.

The structure of some older CRP fields, particularly those planted to native grasses and sagebrush, increasingly resembles shrub-steppe and provides important habitat for sage-grouse, Larsen explains. Remnant sage grouse populations are in shrub-steppe habitat in Douglas, Grant, Lincoln, Kittitas, and Yakima counties in Washington.

Maintaining sage-grouse in Washington will depend on protecting remaining habitat, restoring degraded habitat, and re-establishing populations outside their current range. And that, Larsen says, will take a sustained cooperative effort by many state and federal agencies and private landowners for a long period of time.

Larsen also notes successful recovery of sage-grouse could benefit many other shrub-steppe species that have also declined dramatically in the state, including sharp-tailed grouse, sage thrasher, sage sparrow, burrowing owl, and pygmy rabbit.

The newly available payments to producers, through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), will be based on forgone income as a result of leaving CRP land idle, and could be as high as $47 per acre.

In addition, practices to improve sage-grouse habitat may be applied with funding through the federal Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP), which typically pays up to 75 percent of the costs. Such practices, which also promote overall grazing land health and the sustainability of agricultural operations, include:

  • Retrofitting existing fences to increase their visibility and reduce sage-grouse mortality;
  • Installing escape ramps for wildlife in watering facilities;
  • Deferring grazing in nesting areas to increase residual cover and increase brood survival rates;
  • Treating noxious or invasive weeds to improve range condition and sage grouse habitat.

The initiative is limited to sage-grouse habitat areas of central and eastern Washington. Priority will be given to lands with high priority sage grouse habitat – breeding grounds or “leks,” and nesting and rearing areas.

For more information on this and other conservation opportunities, producers are urged to contact the USDA Service Center in Waterville, 509-745-8561, or your local USDA service center (see http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/ to find the center nearest you.)


February 2010

Land exchange between WDFW and DNR moving forward

The second phase of a major land exchange between the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) and the Washington Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) is moving forward this winter after years of inter-agency discussions and an extensive public-comment process.

Last month the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission authorized WDFW to transfer 12,424 acres of high-elevation forestland in eastern Washington to WDNR in exchange for 25,849 acres of shrub-steppe and low-elevation forestlands. The agreement affects properties held by both agencies in Kittitas, Okanogan, Klickitat, Yakima and Asotin counties.

WDFW Director Phil Anderson says the action allows both agencies to consolidate their holdings and manage public lands more efficiently and effectively.

“It’s a major step forward in correcting the checkerboard pattern of ownership that has complicated management of public wildlife lands since the early days of statehood,” he said.

The land exchange is specifically designed to:

  • Protect and enhance habitat for species ranging from elk and mule deer to sage grouse and pileated woodpecker.
  • Maintain public access and recreation on public lands.
  • Generate revenue for WDNR trust beneficiaries, such as public schools.

A copy of the joint Environmental Assessment, which includes a description and maps of the land exchange, is available at http://wdfw.wa.gov/licensing/sepa/

Under the first phase of the land exchange, approved last August, the commission authorized WDFW to transfer a total of 9,000 acres in Thurston, Kittitas and Okanogan counties to WDNR in exchange for 5,100 acres to be managed as wildlife habitat. Both phases of the land transfer are expected to be completed this year.