OLYMPIA - Much of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife's (WDFW) work with eastern Washington farmers and other landowners to improve fish and wildlife habitat will likely be curtailed this year due to loss of federal funding.
WDFW officials recently learned that funding for Washington's Ecosystem Conservation Project was not included in the federal budget this year. That money makes up about 60 percent of the budget for WDFW's Upland Wildlife Restoration Program in all eastside counties.
WDFW Lands Division Manager Mark Quinn said the funding loss means a reduction of almost $1 million and will have a significant impact on the 17 employees in the Upland Wildlife Restoration Program. Those employees work with farmers and other landowners in voluntary, incentive-based programs to improve habitat for fish and wildlife by planting grasses, trees, and shrubs, modifying agricultural practices and installing water developments. Their work enhances WDFW's ability to negotiate hunting access agreements on many of these private lands, Quinn said.
Over the past decade, the Upland Wildlife Restoration Program has worked with 1,296 private landowners to enhance hundreds of thousands of acres of wildlife habitat, install 1,100 wildlife watering devices and post 25,000 signs on over three million acres with hunting access and habitat agreements.
Noting that 63 percent of Washington is privately owned, Quinn said the program has played a major role in improving habitat for fish and wildlife on privately owned lands.
"This funding cut is going to have a significant impact on our ability to continue this program without major changes or reductions," Quinn said. "In addition, our employees whose positions have been funded by this program have been an important bridge to private landowners and have been instrumental in implementation of various farm bill programs and other conservation initiatives on private lands across the state. Their involvement with local conservation districts, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, The Farm Service Agency and private landowners is one of the big reasons that the Conservation Reserve Program has been so successful in Washington."
Many farmers with acreage enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program work with WDFW Upland Wildlife Restoration Program staff, Quinn explained. Administered by the Department of Agriculture, CRP compensates farmers for taking highly erodible acreage out of agricultural production to improve water and air quality, soil stability and wildlife habitat. WDFW staff has helped these landowners qualify for CRP compensation through technical assistance and by providing materials to construct enhancements for wildlife.
Washington's Ecosystem Conservation Project was first established in 1991 by Congressman Norm Dicks through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
"We will be looking at all options to try and maintain the Upland Restoration Program and to minimize the impact of this budget reduction," Quinn said.