As Washington continues to grow, many of our most beautiful areas are threatened with development. In addition, native ecosystems are receding, and important wildlife habitat and migratory pathways are being cut off. The Natural Areas category helps combat this by funding projects that protect wildlife habitat and rare geological features while also preserving public access for back-country recreation.
Recent inventories have documented that over one-half of the state’s shrub-steppe habitat has been lost and that much of the remaining shrub-steppe has been degraded. There is a well-documented urgent need for protection of intact shrub-steppe habitat in Washington, and in particular for locating and protecting the remaining excellent examples. Methow Rapids Natural Area Preserve (NAP), located along the Columbia River in southwestern Okanogan County, supports outstanding examples of two shrub-steppe communities that are among the least-protected and most limited in extent within the state: smooth sumac/bluebunch wheatgrass and antelope bitterbrush/bluebunch wheatgrass. Historically, these communities were most extensive in the Okanogan Valley and along portions of the Snake and Columbia Rivers. Intact examples of these communities are now very limited due to historic overgrazing, as well as expanding agricultural and residential development. This project expanded the existing NAP to include additional areas of these plant communities, which are classified by the Natural Heritage Program as Priority 1 and Priority 2, respectively. This project has added to the statewide protection of these communities and enhanced the long-term viability of the site.