MISSOULA, Mont. – —In a deal brokered by the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, utility company PacifiCorp has conserved more than 2,000 acres of forestland and Roosevelt elk habitat near the North Fork of the Lewis River in southwest Washington.

The previous owners, Fruit Growers Supply Co. had requested a zone change on some of the lands to allow residential development. PacifiCorp’s purchase cancels that request.

South of Mount St. Helens and north of Swift Reservoir on the Lewis River, the land is an important acquisition because it offers crucial habitat for Roosevelt elk in a region where Mount St. Helens’ national monument designation restricts management options, resulting in overgrown forests contributing to the decline of a once-productive elk herd.

The lands will be open for public access (non-motorized) including hunting and other recreation. Law enforcement contracts with state and county enforcement agencies will be enhanced to protect these areas and enforce regulations.

“”This purchase ensures that these properties remain as open space for the future and will be managed to enhance the existing habitat for many species of wildlife including elk,”” said Bill Richardson, RMEF lands program manager for Oregon and Washington. ““PacifiCorp has habitat management plans that allow for forestry, but include larger buffers for streams and wetlands, permanent forage areas for deer and elk, wetlands, old growth forests and protection of other unique habitats.””

The newly acquired lands will be added to PacifiCorp’s suite of more than 13,000 acres near the Lewis River, all managed to enhance wildlife habitat.

PacifiCorp manages land with input from a committee of state, federal, tribal and private individuals to emphasize intermediate-succession habitat and increased forage for elk and black-tailed deer. Black bears and cougars, along with species of concern such as bald eagles, bats and salamanders, also inhabit the area.

“Conserving and managing this habitat on the southern slopes of Mount St. Helens, where elk are threatened by forage loss from forest succession and habitat loss from development—all within 90 minutes of Portland and Vancouver—is a major accomplishment,” said Richardson.

PacifiCorp also worked with RMEF and other parties in 2009 and 2010 to conserve more than 1,000 acres. The newest purchase adjoins 480 acres of protected lands that include a 57-acre meadow and forest habitat where elk are regularly viewed from Highway 503 along the Lewis River.

RMEF, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Cowlitz Tribe and others supported PacifiCorp’s acquisition. Mount St. Helens National Monument also partnered by helping resolve road access issues, making the sale possible.

PacifiCorp purchased the land to help fulfill terms of its Lewis River Hydroelectric Relicensing Settlement Agreement. The deal was finalized June 4.

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