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WASHINGTON DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND WILDLIFE     Print Version
NEWS RELEASE
600 Capitol Way North, Olympia, WA 98501-1091


February 06, 1998
Contact: Madonna Luers, (509) 456-4073

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Wildlife focus helps Washington gain almost 484,000 acres in CRP

Almost 484,000 acres of eastern Washington farmland were accepted into the federal Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) last week, thanks to help from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).

Land under the CRP is kept out of crop production through payments to farmers for conservation benefits, including prevention of soil erosion, improvement of water and air quality, and providing wildlife habitat.

Several wildlife species and habitats that are in trouble in Washington will benefit from CRP acreage. The most notable species are salmon, steelhead trout, bull trout, pygmy rabbits, sage grouse, and sharp-tailed grouse. The troubled habitats include riparian zones (stream sides), wetlands, and shrub-steppe (sagebrush/grasslands).

A total of 483,681 acres in 2,678 parcels across 19 eastern Washington counties scored well enough under conservation criteria to be accepted into the program. The newly-signed CRP acreage represents an 82 percent acceptance rate, since a total of 591,216 acres was offered.

That contrasts sharply with last year's 21 percent acceptance rate for Washington acreage, one of the lowest in the nation. After that bad news last May, WDFW officials pledged to coordinate with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) and Farm Service Agency to help farmers maintain the CRP funding by improving what is grown on CRP acreage for wildlife.

The original intent of CRP and other provisions of the 1985 and 1990 Farm Bills were to provide farm income stabilization, control crop production and reduce soil erosion on highly erosive and marginal farmland. The 1996 version currently used is strongly directed at providing conservation benefits. Points are given for improved water quality, improved air quality, and increased wildlife habitat, as well as reduced soil erosion.

With the old Farm Bill landowners were only required to plant grass. The new Farm Bill encourages farmers to plant multiple native grasses, broad leaved plants, legumes, shrubs and trees. The results of the new seedings will provide much greater benefits to wildlife. Even lands that were re-enrolled into CRP will get a face lift. These existing stands of grass will be enhanced with new seedings to improve their value as wildlife habitat.

"Our Upland Wildlife Restoration Program staff helped farmers through this latest CRP sign-up period by recommending improvements in the vegetation grown on CRP lands for wildlife and by evaluating the most environmentally sensitive areas for bidding into the program," said Dave Ware of the WDFW Wildlife Management Program. "We provided technical assistance and continue to seek additional funding to help farmers pay the increased costs of planting the type of vegetation that is most beneficial to wildlife."

"There is still much work to be done," said Dan Blatt , manager of WDFW's Upland Wildlife Restoration Program. "When the final numbers are tallied we will have added more than 200 landowners and thousands of acres to our program. There are thousands of shrubs and trees to be planted, over 1,000 wildlife watering devices to install, and several thousand acres to be planted to grasses, legumes, and forbs. Much of this new habitat will be available through regulated access programs for public hunting, fishing, and wildlife viewing."

The technical expertise necessary for landowners to establish the new mixes of vegetation will be critical to a farmer's success, explained Jerry Benson, WDFW's vegetation management expert. WDFW will continue working with NRCS staff to help provide that assistance to farmers.

With earlier sign-ups and ongoing contracts, Washington farmers now total about 871,000 acres enrolled in CRP, including wildlife habitat enhancements that benefit everything from deer and pheasants to butterflies and frogs.

"This is a voluntary, incentive-based program where everyone benefits," said Ware. "Landowners receive some economic stability through long-term rental of their land, they get help complying with environmental regulations, and perhaps prevent the need for additional regulation. Fish and wildlife benefit from vast acres of improved habitats and the citizens of the state benefit from improved environmental conditions and greater wildlife populations to enjoy."

Blatt noted that WDFW habitat development managers Mark Grabski of St. John, Ted Johnson of Pomeroy, Gretchen Steele of Ephrata, Ron Fox of Wenatchee, Steve DeGrood of Yakima, Bill Powell of Olympia, and their staffs, are responsible for the CRP habitat expansion and will be coordinating spring seeding, planting, and other on the ground work.*

Following is a county by county list of the newly accepted CRP acreage:

County # of parcels # if acres % of total offered
Adams 482 80,473.3 80%
Asotin 58 15,260.2 63%
Benton 104 26,394.4 100%
Chelan 1 56.8 100%
Columbia 55 9,817.9 78%
Douglas 342 65,869.4 58%
Ferry 5 300.2 100%
Franklin 244 55,567.9 97%
Garfield 92 11,796.4 94%
Grant 152 28,955.5 91%
Kittitas 6 1,829.2 100%
Klickitat 101 14,886.7 87%
Lincoln 421 45,932.6 82%
Okanogan 4 373.9 14%
Spokane 114 10,218.4 85%
Stevens 8 744.9 68%
Walla Walla 183 81,469.4 99%
Whitman 245 16,875.7 86%
Yakima 61 16,848.6 93%

(*NEWS MEDIA: These staffers can help arrange photo opportunities of on-site activities for this story; WDFW's Madonna Luers, 509-456-4073, can put you in touch with them.)