Wildlife, riparian habitat permanently protected near Mount St. Helens
|MISSOULA, Mont. — The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and its conservation partners permanently protected and opened access to 1,453 acres of wildlife and riparian habitat in southwest Washington.
RMEF worked with Merrill Lake Properties LLC and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) to connect protected lands and enhance recreational activities like hunting and fishing.
“There was a possibility that the previous owner could offer this Merrill Lake waterfront property to the highest bidder, but now this landscape is forever protected and open for everyone to access and use,” said Blake Henning, RMEF chief conservation officer.
“Our working partnership with the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation enables us to meet the public’s demand for increased wildlife conservation, more open space and recreational opportunities,” said Clay Sprague, WDFW Lands Division manager. “We very much appreciate and value the key role that RMEF has played in opening up this incredible landscape near Merrill Lake for the public. Their funding of the remaining acreage is a very timely contribution and enhances this public acquisition.”
The Washington State Recreation and Conservation Office provided vital funding through its Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program for the project and RMEF stepped in to bridge a shortfall due to a purchase deadline. WDFW takes immediate ownership of 1,016 acres while RMEF holds 140 acres until funding is acquired for conveyance to WDFW. RMEF is currently spearheading that effort.
The transaction benefits Washington’s largest elk herd and is the latest in a series of projects near Mount St. Helens. RMEF collaborated with its partners to complete the first phase of the Merrill Lake project, encompassing 297 acres, in 2015.
“This property with its early seral and old growth forests has an extremely diverse set of conservation values that, in addition to elk, benefit black-tailed deer, mountain lions, black bears, osprey, eagles and other animal life as well as salmon and steelhead,” Henning said.
The land provides low elevation security for elk and is a vital fishery featuring some of the coldest fresh water inputs from the Kalama River that lead into the lower Columbia River system.