MISSOULA, Mont. – Nearly a thousand acres of elk habitat near Mt. St. Helens in Washington have been protected from development, secured for public access and will be managed for wildlife thanks to a partnership between a utility company, PacifiCorp, and a conservation organization, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.
PacifiCorp purchased the land from Longview Timber to help fulfill terms of the Lewis River Hydroelectric Relicensing Settlement Agreement. RMEF identified the lands as an important acquisition and then negotiated the purchase.
The transaction closed and all documents were officially recorded Dec. 23, 2010.
Two tracts, both just under 500 acres and southwest of Mt. St. Helens, are involved. The first, north of PacifiCorp’s Swift Reservoir and west of Marble Mountain, adjoins Gifford Pinchot National Forest. The second lies along the Lewis River between Yale Reservoir and Lake Merwin in an area of extensive state lands and other PacifiCorp holdings.
Both tracts also are in areas of high-end residential and recreational development. The recent purchase ensures that these areas remain open space for the future.
Additionally, both tracts are used year-round by a significant number of Roosevelt’s elk, crucial habitat in a region where Mt. St. Helens’ national monument designation, attendant management restrictions and overgrown forests are causing the decline of a once-productive elk herd. PacifiCorp will manage both tracts, with input from RMEF, 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, salamanders and turtles, also inhabit the area.
“Very seldom does RMEF help acquire lands that we can also help manage,” said Bill Richardson, RMEF lands program manager for Oregon and Washington. “Conserving and managing this habitat on the southwest slopes of Mt. St. Helens, where elk are threatened by forage loss from forest succession and habitat loss to development – all within 50 miles of Portland (Ore.) and Vancouver (Wash.) – is a major accomplishment.”
Kirk S. Naylor, principle scientist of wildlife and forestry for PacifiCorp, said, “RMEF not only helped make this transaction happen, but its staff and volunteers have been collaborating with us for years to enhance habitat for fish and wildlife. In fact, RMEF volunteer Bob Nelson attended one of the very first Lewis River relicensing meetings back in 1999. I have witnessed the energy and counted on the objectivity of RMEF folks ever since.”
Naylor added, “In my 24 years of working as a wildlife biologist for PacifiCorp, I have developed a keen interest in one of the properties that we just acquired. The tract near Yale Reservoir is only 490 acres of mostly second growth timber, but it lies adjacent to one of our most heavily used and well established elk foraging areas within the Lewis River wildlife habitat management area, which now totals over 11,000 acres. Had these 490 acres been developed or even logged aggressively as private timberland can sometimes be, it would have been a loss to a far greater area.”
PacifiCorp and RMEF worked together in 2009 to acquire and conserve 52 acres in the same area. The land is meadow habitat that also helps support Roosevelt’s elk from the Mt. St. Helens herd.
The Lewis River Hydroelectric Relicensing Settlement Agreement was approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission which granted new hydroelectric operation licenses in 2008. The licenses provide for 50 years of continued operation of four dams and hydroelectric facilities along the Lewis River. Included are plans to re-open up to 174 miles of potential salmon habitat, improve local flood management and boost recreational opportunities. Negotiators representing PacifiCorp, Native American tribes, federal and state resource agencies, three counties, RMEF and other conservation groups signed the agreement.