$3.5M grant to protect wildlife in Methow Valley

The state Department of Fish and Wildlife will use a $3.5 million federal grant over the next three years to help protect habitat for more than 20 at-risk species in the Methow Valley, north of Leavenworth.

Added to dollars awarded by the state Legislature this year through the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program, the money will enable the state to buy about 2,700 acres of land or conservation easements to connect lands needed for mule deer migration, said Elizabeth Rodrick, state Fish and Wildlife's land conservation coordinator.

She said private land or easements -- which could be scattered from Mazama to Carlton -- will only be purchased from willing sellers.

State officials say the area may be the most intact and ecologically functional major drainage in Eastern Washington, and one of the few places in the country where endangered and threatened species -- from salmon and grizzly bears, gray wolves and lynx -- live together.

Rodrick said those animals need a connected habitat in order to thrive.

"We have a fair amount of upland habitat protected, but there are needs for animals to move up and down the valley, and across the valley," she said, requiring protection of lower elevation property.

She said since the land to be purchased depends on willing sellers, the state has identified backup plans for buying other land.

This is the eighth grant the state has received to protect lands used by threatened and endangered species in the Methow Valley.

Okanogan County officials have objected to state land purchases in the past, saying state and federal agencies spend a disproportionate amount of money buying land in their county.

After numerous complaints, the State Department of Fish and Wildlife agreed to notify the county before land purchases.

Commissioner Bud Hover said the state and county are now working on an agreement to pay for a study to look at long-term the economic effects of state land purchases.