BATTLE GROUND — Washington’s endangered salmon rely on rivers and creeks for spawning and rearing, and now private landowners can be at the forefront of the species’ recovery through a new grant program.
In 2022, the Legislature appropriated $10 million to the state conservation commission for its 2023 Salmon Recovery Funding program, which provides resources to landowners for salmon habitat restoration on their property. The state awarded roughly $7.5 million, $3.4 million of which was used. Unspent funding was reappropriated to the commission for related projects in 2024.
Locally, the state coordinated with Clark Conservation District to distribute money for riparian improvements in the East Fork Lewis River Watershed in northern Clark County. It’s just one of nine primary watersheds that eventually flow into the Columbia River and one that the Department of Ecology lists as “impaired” for its high water temperatures and bacterial pollution.
Though the grant mentions salmon in its name, the program focuses on riparian revival and protection, said Ashley Smithers, Clark Conservation District habitat program manager.
Riparian projects also help salmon by tending to stream health, she said. Shade keeps water cool and plants filter pollutants. Buffers slow sediment from flowing downstream. Self-sustaining native plants will slowly return the land close to its original state.
“Any little changes to these small streams can affect the watershed’s health, good or bad,” she said.
In a forested locale along Rock Creek east of Battle Ground, neighbors Kim Flick and Danielle Booth are collaborating to restore multiple acres of riparian habitat.
Their property, now bone-dry, is home to a stream system that washes through tall grasses and ferns as seasonal rainfall blankets the region. Almost in an instant, water will convert loose soil into thick sludge and fill depressed channels.
“We’re doing things we won’t even know about in 100 years,” Flick chuckled as they went on a late-morning stroll between fir stands. “And when you’ve got a neighbor who has the same love of it, it’s like your fence doesn’t even exist.”
They cataloged native plants, shrubs and trees that would provide shade along the streambank and cultivate healthy soil and water. Flick pointed to non-natives she planned to remove, such as thistles, blackberry brambles and canary grass. Booth spoke about creating water stations for migratory birds as a red-tailed hawk flew overhead.
“It’s a real honor to be a forest steward, to have a responsibility to care for this land,” Booth said. “It’s exciting to me.”
As they illustrated their vision for the environment, Smithers listened intently and nodded. The walk was one of many required to help Flick and Booth develop a habitat restoration plan with the Clark Conservation District. Now, the agency and landowners are in the process of finalizing their riparian strategy. The costs, which generally shift depending on an applicant’s land and project goals, will be covered through the state’s grant program.
Properties along Lower Salmon Creek, Burnt Bridge Creek, Lacamas Lake River, Gee Creek, Lewis River and Rock Creek are a top priority for Clark Conservation District, as project funding is limited. That doesn’t mean those who don’t live in these areas aren’t eligible for future assistance. As community interest in the program expands, so will the conservation district’s funding prospects, Smithers said.
Sign up for a free site visit at www.clarkcd.org or by calling 360-859-4780.
Clark Conservation District hosts additional programs to assist landowners, whether it’s sharing best land management practices for farmers or information on how to properly dispose human and animal waste. The agency serves as a bridge between residents and local, state or federal funding resources that support protecting water, soil and forests.
Conservation districts are nonregulatory, which spares applicants from the fear of being punished for violating rules, Smithers said. According to the Clark Conservation District, the agency is “here to help and assist, not enforce laws.”
Becoming involved in habitat restoration is not easy, Flick and Booth admitted. But it’s meaningful, especially for those who consider themselves environmental stewards.
“It’s not our land,” Flick paused, taking in the wild setting. “It’s theirs.”
This story was made possible by Community Funded Journalism, a project from The Columbian and the Local Media Foundation. Top donors include the Ed and Dollie Lynch Fund, Patricia, David and Jacob Nierenberg, Connie and Lee Kearney, Steve and Jan Oliva, The Cowlitz Tribal Foundation and the Mason E. Nolan Charitable Fund. The Columbian controls all content. For more information, visit columbian.com/cfj.