April’s WWRP category is Critical Habitat. This important category includes projects that are incredibly important for conserving habitat for fish and wildlife. These projects protect the rich and diverse habitats in our forests, prairies, and wetlands. These funds help maintain our state’s biodiversity and protect species that are popular for hunting, birding, and other outdoor recreation, and are critical for the health of our salmon and fish populations.
The Critical Habitat project we have chosen to highlight this month is Cowiche Watershed 2016, which just received funding with the delayed passage of the Capital Budget in January.
The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife will use this grant to buy 3,200 acres of crucial upland wildlife habitat in the Cowiche watershed, 15 miles northwest of Yakima, in Yakima County. This is the final phase in the department’s 14 year-long quest to knit together this ecosystem, which contains priority habitats and state species of concern, such as shrub-steppe, stream shorelines, wetlands, oak-pine forests, sage thrashers, loggerhead shrikes, sage sparrows, golden and bald eagles, Townsend ground squirrels, western gray squirrels, Townsend big-eared bats, white-headed woodpeckers, Lewis’ woodpeckers, and pygmy nuthatches. The purchase links the department’s Cowiche and Oak Creek Wildlife Area units with other public lands, connecting more 80,000 acres of protected land that extends for more than 26 miles, and builds on the department’s efforts that already have protected 5,600 acres of upland habitat in the watershed. The project is critical because it: a) protects upland cold water inputs for Cowiche watershed habitat for steelhead, Bull Trout, Westslope Cutthroat Trout, and Coho Salmon; b) secures critical winter range and movement corridors for up to 2,800 elk and other big game; c) provides the public with recreational opportunities, including hunting, wildlife viewing, camping, hiking, and mountain biking; and d) maintains stream shoreline and upland habitats that support state priority wildlife.