By Ann McCreary and Marcy Stamper

The Washington Wildlife & Recreation Program (WWRP) received $80 million with the recent passage of the state’s $4.3 billion capital budget. Included in the funding are two projects in or near the Methow Valley that are funded under WWRP’s land-restoration and enhancement category.

The budget also releases $488,000 in grants for three salmon-recovery projects in the Methow Valley.

Projects under WWRP’s land-restoration category provide funding to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) and Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to help repair damaged plant and animal habitat, according to information from WWRP. These grants focus on resource preservation and protection of public lands.

The Methow Forest Restoration Project conducted by WDFW has been allocated $604,000 to burn 1,114 acres in the Methow Wildlife Area and thin 593 acres of forest 4 miles north of Twisp to restore the forest.

Decades of fire suppression have transformed open Ponderosa pine stands to dense forests, contributing to a loss of understory plants and trees and to the severe fires of the past two years, according to WWRP.

By reintroducing controlled fire to the landscape, some of this build-up will be burned, reducing the risk of high-severity fires and improving overall forest health and wildlife habitat

A project titled Post-fire Shrub Steppe Habitat Restoration will be carried out by DNR, which has been allocated $98,000 to restore 65 acres of shrub-steppe habitat damaged by wildfires in four Natural Area Preserves in Okanogan and Douglas Counties. Following the fires, the department did a limited amount of weed control and seeding, but more work is necessary to fully restore these native plant communities, according to WWRP.

Work will be done at four Natural Area Preserves. Two Steppe, located 20 miles east of Waterville, lies within the identified breeding area of a greater sage-grouse population. To enhance sage grouse habitat, DNR will thin the sagebrush and plant native bunchgrass on 10 acres. DNR will also do work at Riverside Breaks, north of Omak, where there is a population of the rare Snake River Cryptantha, a flowering plant.

The other areas are Davis Canyon, north of Brewster, which was established as a National Natural Landmark because of its high-quality plant communities, and Methow Rapids, south of Pateros, which includes unique plant communities not protected in other areas.

Salmon projects

The three salmon-recovery projects in the Methow Valley are the only ones in Okanogan County to receive funding. They are part of $53 million awarded to 163 projects statewide by the Salmon Recovery Funding Board and the Puget Sound Partnership.

The largest local salmon project is a $248,000 grant to the Methow Salmon Recovery Foundation (MSRF) to buy 17 acres of floodplain along the Methow River near the Sugar Levee, about 1 mile north of Twisp. The levee was constructed in 1973 and has contributed to significant erosion on both banks of the river, according to the project description.

The acquisition project includes the entire river frontage and floodplain portion of the property,. It adds to four properties in the area that have already been acquired.

By purchasing the property, MSRF will retire the development rights along the river, allowing for future restoration on this and adjacent properties. There are several proposals for restoration at the site.

The property owner will retain the ability to develop two building sites in upland areas, rather than four as initially planned.

The river is used by spring Chinook salmon, which are listed as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA), and by steelhead, which are listed as threatened. The river also provides habitat for Columbia River bull trout, Pacific lamprey, cutthroat trout and coho salmon.

MSRF will contribute $43,690 from another grant.

MSRF also received almost $90,000 to assess the population of bull trout in the upper Columbia River Salmon Recovery Region and to identify and prioritize restoration projects in areas where bull trout spawning is concentrated.

Information obtained through the study will be used to select and develop habitat projects to improve fish passage, habitat complexity, water quality and the condition of shorelines. Bull trout are listed as threatened under the ESA.

MSRF will contribute $18,000 from other grants.

The Cascade Columbia Fisheries Enhancement Group received $150,000 to assess barriers to fish passage in the Methow Basin and to prioritize those most in need of correction.

There are 209 constructed fish-passage sites that partially or fully block fish, three-fourths of all sites in a database compiled by WDFW.

The grant will allow the fisheries enhancement group to do an updated assessment, since the last survey was done more than a decade ago and much of that data is believed to be incomplete or not up to current standards.

The fisheries group will contribute labor and $56,500 from another grant.