Lower funding level means money isn’t available for Yakima Basin land purchases
YAKIMA, Wash. -- This week’s announcement that Congress had reauthorized a federal fund critical to the preservation of large swaths of rural lands for conservation and recreation was good news for the several Washington projects that depend on the funding.
But that three-year reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) came with an appropriation agreement at $450 million, only half the program’s full funding level of $900 million.
And that meant bad news for supporters of an ongoing, long-term land purchase-and-preservation process within the Yakima River Basin.
The $3 million necessary for the planned 2016 purchase of 2,560 acres within the North Fork of the Little Naches River will not be available at that lower funding level.
“Obviously, this is part of a big push to secure and guarantee clean water for the Yakima Basin, for fisheries, for farms and for the health of the ecosystem,” said Karin Frank of the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Coalition, which prioritizes Washington projects for funding through the LWCF.
“The concern is that this is an ongoing, multi-year project that depends on the Land and Water Conservation Fund,” Frank said.
The Little Naches tract purchase was to follow on the heels of purchases of six tracts totaling just under 4,000 acres in 2014 and 2015, as part of the multi-partner Tapash Sustainable Forest Collaborative process to bolster water quality and ecosystem health along the eastern crest of the central Cascades.
Following the Little Naches purchase — which now can’t happen until at least 2017 — another 14,226 acres, at a cost of $16.75 million, were to be purchased between 2017 and 2020.
“Losing this purchase opportunity impacts the target date,” Frank said. “Now it’s likely to take longer than that.”
The purchases would further resolve the historic “checkerboard” pattern of Central Cascades and enable land managers to maintain habitat and migration corridors for numerous state- and federally listed threatened or endangered species, in addition to landscape-level management for water storage and quality.
The $450 million LWCF appropriation for 2016 ensured funding for such Washington projects as filling in gaps on the Pacific Crest Trail, acquiring properties in the Lake Quinault area of Olympic National Park to curb sewage dumping threatening water quality, and preserving historic farmland on Whidbey Island through conservation easements.