OLYMPIA - A multi-partner coalition formed by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) began a series of meetings recently to develop a plan for preserving prairie lands currently for sale near Maytown in Thurston County.
The Rocky Prairie Work Group was established this summer after the Port of Tacoma had announced it was selling 745 acres it had purchased in 2006 for a transportation and cargo center south of Olympia.
The work group was formed to explore ways to assess and potentially acquire the land for conservation purposes, said Jeff Koenings, WDFW director, who with Ken Berg, USFWS manager for western Washington, is a spokesperson for the group.
"Many stakeholders are interested in preserving these prairie lands, some of the few left in western Washington," Koenings said. "Determining the feasibility and methods for acquiring these lands is the primary goal of this group."
In addition to WDFW and USFWS, the work group includes representatives from the Port of Tacoma, Friends of Rocky Prairie, the Washington Department of Ecology, the Washington Department of Natural Resources, The Nature Conservancy, the Audubon Society, Capitol Land Trust and other private and governmental agencies.
The group’s first meeting in August, which included a presentation by the Port of Tacoma on its plans to divest the property, was held to discuss mutual objectives for the port, agencies, conservation groups and local residents, Koenings said.
"Many people and organizations are coming together for this effort," Koenings said. "Right now, we need to gather information on the quality of the habitat and the presence of endangered and threatened species before we can assess the value of the site for conservation purposes. As a first step, we’re requesting that the Port of Tacoma provide the work group access to the site."
The property in south Thurston county is near the 842-acre Millersylvania State Park and is surrounded by land owned by local residents, and other agency and private organizations. Adjacent to the port’s property is 800 acres of WDFW-owned land known as West Rocky Prairie. The department purchased that land in 2006 for its value as prairie, oak woodland and wetland habitat.