Department of Ecology News Release - February 23, 2009

09-045

Wetland preservation projects move Puget Sound recovery forward

OLYMPIA – The Puget Sound recovery effort is getting a boost from $3.1 million in federal grants to the Washington Department of Ecology (Ecology). The grants will help local partners return more than 350 acres of critical and increasingly rare estuarine and connected fresh water wetland habitat in Mason, Pierce, Thurston and Whatcom counties to natural conditions.

Obtaining, restoring and preserving critical habitat areas are a high priority for Ecology – and a cornerstone of the Puget Sound Partnership’s Action Agenda to recover and protect the Sound.

Ecology Director Jay Manning said about 70 percent of the land near the mouths of Puget Sound rivers has been converted to residential, commercial and industrial uses.

“Every investment we make now will pay tremendous economic and environmental dividends in the future,” Manning said. “Environmentally, these interconnected near-shore estuaries and upland freshwater areas provide vital nurseries for salmon and other marine life. Wetlands also are crucial for natural flood control, filtering drinking water and erosion control.”

Puget Sound Partnership Executive Director David Dicks said the region is rapidly losing opportunities to return important wetland habitats to their natural condition.

“These projects demonstrate if we all work together — on the federal, state, tribal, private, non-profit and local levels — we can identify, invest in and make the most of these rare opportunities to benefit the public,” he said.

Puget Sound is part of Washington’s natural environment that attracts people to the region and helps drive $20 billion of economic activities in the state.

The $3.1 million in grants are being provided by the National Coastal Wetlands Conservation Grant Program. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service program was established in 1990. It is designed to help states acquire, restore, and enhance coastal wetlands.

Since its inception, the federal program has provided about $183 million in grant monies to 25 coastal states and one U.S. territory involving the restoration of more than 250,000 acres of coastal wetland ecosystems. Funding for the program comes from excise taxes on fishing equipment and motorboat and small engine fuels.

The Capitol Land Trust and other entities together with Ecology will invest $1 million in federal grant funds to acquire 125 acres of highly functional estuary and freshwater habitat in the Twin Rivers estuary, about five miles north of Shelton at the upper end of Oakland Bay on Hammersley Inlet.

The site also includes about 3,200 feet of marine shoreline and 66 acres of wetlands – including estuary habitat, salt marsh vegetation, tidal sloughs and adjacent tide flats between the mouths of Deer and Cranberry creeks.

Ecology is working in partnership with Key Peninsula Metropolitan Parks District and the Trust for Public Land to invest $500,000 in federal grant funds to conserve 25.5 acres of tideland on the south side of Dutcher Cove, located on the Key Peninsula in Pierce County. The project will ensure public access to the shoreline and prevent habitat loss. Dutcher Cove provides key habitat for several species of salmon as well as shellfish and a range of bird species.

In Thurston County, Ecology is helping build on an existing Capitol Land Trust project in the lower Eld Inlet, located about four miles west of Olympia, by investing $650,000 in federal grant funds to acquire 1.25 miles of coastal marine shoreline and estuarine habitat, tidal sloughs, fresh water springs and connected forested uplands.

The vast bulk of the 55-acre project is classified as wetlands providing habitat for five salmon species and 107 species of waterfowl, shorebirds and land bird species. The project sustains one of the most intact, highly functional estuarine areas remaining in the south Puget Sound.

Ecology also is working in partnership with The Nature Conservancy, Whatcom Land Trust and Whatcom County to provide $1 million in federal grant funds to purchase and permanently protect a 146-acre parcel at Lily Point located at the southeast corner of Point Roberts. The project includes 4,200 feet of shoreline and 94 acres of nationally-declining wetlands.

The acquisition would complement an adjacent 130-acre parcel recently purchased by the county and Whatcom Land Trust. The Lily Point site is an essential part of the 154 square-mile Fraser River Delta, one of the most important migratory shorebird and waterfowl areas on the West Coast as well as a major salmon spawning river and estuary system.

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Contacts:
Jeanne Koenings, Ecology wetland stewardship specialists, 360-407-7258 (jkoe461@ecy.wa.gov)
Curt Hart, Ecology media relations, 360-407-6990; cell, 360-480-7908 (char461@ecy.wa.gov)
Katy Johansson, Puget Sound Partnership media relations, 360-725-5442; cell, 360-628-2429 (katy.johansson@psp.wa.gov)

Ecology Web site: http://www.ecy.wa.gov/puget_sound/index.html

Puget Sound Partnership Web site: http://www.psp.wa.gov/

Wetlands information: http://www.ecy.wa.gov/programs/sea/wetlands/index.html

National Coastal Wetlands Conservation Grant Program: http://www.fws.gov/coastal/CoastalGrants/