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State to fund salmon habitat-protection efforts

A recent state grant of $4.8 million will go toward a

major concern of many county residents: salmon protection.

Nearly 1,000 acres of salmon habitat in King County

watersheds will be protected as a result of the grant, which was

appropriated by Congress and the Washington State Legislature.

The grant money will go toward habitat restoration and

protection projects approved Jan. 26 by the Washington State Salmon

Recovery Funding Board. With the funding, land critical to

salmon survival will be bought and preserved, and other habitat areas

will be improved with projects such as planting vegetation and

removing fish passage barriers.

"This is an important investment in the conservation of

critical habitat in the Puget Sound basin," said King County

Executive Ron Sims. "One of the most important things we can do

for salmon, and for the overall health of our environment, is to

preserve the precious natural habitat that still exists."

Of the $4.8 million, more than $1 million will be spent in

the Snohomish Watershed, which includes the Snoqualmie

and Skykomish rivers. Four of the projects are land

acquisitions sponsored by the King County Department of Natural

Resources, and a fifth was sponsored by the city of Seattle.

For DNR's projects, $399,500 will be used to purchase 80

acres along the Tolt River, a few miles east of Carnation; $249,000

will buy 15 acres of habitat along Griffin Creek, near

Carnation; $200,600 will go toward the purchase of 37 acres of forested

wetlands along Patterson Creek, between Fall City and

Redmond; and $85,000 will be spent on land alongside the Snoqualmie River.

"This is habitat that is in good condition right now, so we

want to protect it," said Kirk Anderson, the Snoqualmie steward for

DNR. Anderson's job is to figure out which salmon recovery

projects need to be done and to find funding.

He said the reason these particular areas were selected is

because they provide critical habitat for salmon during their

freshwater life stages, such as spawning.

"[County residents] tend to simplify rivers because we

have economic reasons to use the land around it, and if we do that, it

reduces the wildness and the naturalness of the system,"

Anderson said. "So by purchasing habitat, we are saying we want the land

to remain unaltered."

The Seattle-sponsored project will study the possibility of

placing levies alongside the Tolt River at the river's confluence area,

also near Carnation.

The DNR land acquisitions and Seattle projects should

start later this year. The acquisitions will be on a volunteer basis,

and DNR representatives will begin in May to speak with the land's

current owners about the possibility of a sale. The preservation

areas are large enough so that if one property owner doesn't want

to sell, others might, Anderson said, adding that DNR's goal is to

get as much land as possible with the grant money.

Besides the county, funding was allocated to projects

around the state. The funding board received 249 salmon project

grant applications from a wide range of interest groups, including

local governments, nonprofit organizations and tribes. Projects were

reviewed and ranked locally within each watershed by a scientific

review panel, and the most critical received funding. Statewide,

a total of $31.8 million was allocated for salmon recovery

and habitat restoration projects.

The Salmon Recovery Funding Board was established in

July 1999 by the Legislature to help oversee the investment of

state and federal funds for salmon recovery, and this is the second

set of grants administered by the board. The board consists of

five citizen members appointed by the governor with different facets

of expertise in salmon preservation and protection, and five

directors from state agencies, including the Departments of Ecology,

Natural Resources, Fish and Wildlife, and Transportation, and the

Conservation Commission.

Most well-known of the citizen's group is Seattle

resident William Ruckelshaus, who was in the past appointed by

several United States presidents to head the Environmental

Protection Agency and was appointed by former President Clinton to

negotiate with Canada on salmon recovery.

As for future funding, the board allocates money each

year. Gov. Gary Locke has requested $56 million in state and

federal money in his proposed 2001-2003 budget.

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