U.S. gives Columbia Land Trust $6 million grant

Nonprofit group will use money to buy 3,000 acres surrounding key habitat of endangered bull trout

By Erik Robinson, Columbian staff writer

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The largest single grant in Columbia Land Trust’s history — $6 million — will enable the Vancouver-based nonprofit organization to buy 3,000 acres of forest surrounding key bull trout habitat south of Mount St. Helens.

“This is one of the most important areas of bull trout habitat in the state,” said Cherie Kearney, forestry initiative manager for the land trust.

U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar on Monday announced almost $66 million in grants across 25 states to conserve the habitat of threatened and endangered species. The land trust’s grant was easily the largest out of $16.2 million provided in Washington.

Bull trout, listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act, can grow as large as 30 pounds in lakes, though adults are typically much smaller than that in the area south of Mount St. Helens. They spawn and rear as juveniles in creeks, and they need cold and clear water to thrive.

The land trust will use the money to purchase private forest land near Pine Creek, currently owned by Pope Resources.

“By protecting the uplands and managing the land to maintain that cover and to limit erosion and siltation, you help bull trout, you help salmon, you help water quality downstream,” said Doug Zimmer, a spokesman for the Fish & Wildlife Service in Lacey.

Biologists have documented two significant spawning areas above Swift Reservoir, on Rush Creek and in an unnamed tributary of Pine Creek.

The Forest Service owns most of the area around Rush Creek.

The privately owned area around Pine Creek has been the subject of intense debate in Skamania County. In 2007, reacting to applications to subdivide the timber land into small scattered home sites, the county imposed a moratorium on processing new building permits on large parcels of commercial forest property.

A year ago, Columbia Land Trust struck an agreement with Pope Resources, which owns 20,000 acres of commercial timber land in the area. The land trust agreed to buy development rights or purchase land outright to save it from future fragmentation by residential development.

The announcement on Monday will go a long way toward fulfilling that goal.

“It’s nice that we can be part of a larger conservation strategy that Columbia Land Trust is thinking about,” said Joanne Stellini, a biologist with the Fish & Wildlife Service. “They’re trying to be creative in piecing together a number of approaches toward conservation.”

Erik Robinson: 360-735-4551, or erik.robinson@columbian.com.