OLYMPIA—Private landowners will be able to work with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) to protect shrub-steppe habitat for eastern Washington wildlife species and restore acres of Hood Canal area habitat, under an $850,000 grant from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The grant was awarded to WDFW’s Landowner Incentive Program (LIP) for cooperative projects to conserve natural habitat for species at risk, including federally listed endangered or threatened species and species proposed for protection listings. The program helps landowners to compete for grants to protect, enhance or restore habitat on their property.
LIP funding can be used for habitat protection through conservation easements, enhancement or restoration. Since the program’s inception in 2003, over 150 private landowners have applied for LIP funding. LIP has contributed $3 million to habitat restoration efforts in the state. Those projects restored and protected over 560 acres of riparian habitat; 4,350 acres of estuary or nearshore habitat; 1,400 acres of wetlands; 2,600 acres of shrub steppe habitat; and six miles of in-stream habitat, as well as opening fish passage to more than 63 miles of streams previously blocked by man-made structures.
“The number of applicants are vastly more than the funds available, demonstrating the success of the program and the desire of citizens to help preserve and protect fish and wildlife resources,” said WDFW Director Jeff Koenings, Ph.D.
One focus of this year’s LIP projects will be on protecting and restoring shrub-steppe habitat in the Columbia Plateau area of eastern Washington for sage grouse and species such as burrowing owl, ferruginous hawk, Washington ground squirrel and loggerhead shrike. Sage grouse have experienced a severe decline due to habitat loss and the invasion of non-native noxious weeds. Biologists estimate only 790 sage grouse remain in two population concentrations in eastern Washington, far below the 3,200 needed for viability.
This year’s LIP projects also will be aimed at helping Hood Canal species at risk from habitat loss and low dissolved-oxygen levels. Three salmon species in Hood Canal (Puget Sound chinook, Puget Sound steelhead and Hood Canal summer chum) and bull trout are listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act. Puget Sound coho are under consideration for federal protection listing.
LIP funding has not been included in the federal budget for the 2008 fiscal year, and WDFW is working with other state fish and wildlife agencies in seeking congressional action to restore the funding, Koenings said.
“Because over half of Washington state is in private ownership, it is clear that preservation of the state’s rich fish and wildlife heritage will largely be determined by the ability of private landowners to provide habitat for species at risk,” Koenings added. “Building partnerships with private landowners through programs like LIP is a key to the preservation of our fish and wildlife resources for future generations.”
On Sept. 1, WDFW will begin accepting applications for current LIP grant funds. Project application forms and additional information will be available on the WDFW website at http://wdfw.wa.gov/lands/lip after Sept. 1, or may be obtained by calling LIP staff at (360) 902-2478.