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BLM restoring wetlands

Waterfowl are riding the coattails of the federal land consolidation program in Eastern Washington.

Now that it holds large blocks of choice habitat in the channeled scablands region, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management has become an especially attractive partner for Ducks Unlimited, an international non-profit wetlands conservation group.

Restored to their natural state, areas of the scablands exceed the wetland density in many areas of the Prairie Potholes region that produce most of the waterfowl for North American flyways, said Chris Bonsignore, DU habitat biologist based in Spokane.

“A lot of the scablands have been altered over the past 100 years,” Bonsignore said. “With BLM consolidating large parcels, we can start to have a difference on thousands of acres. We can more freely restore some areas without some of the limits you have on smaller parcels.”

In the past five years, DU and BLM have restored 1,260 acres of wetlands divided among four channeled scabland projects, he said.

The public-private partnership gives BLM and DU access to North American Wetlands Conservation grants administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“We just finished a project along Lake Creek in the Telford area (Lincoln County) during the big winter snow storms,” said Jason Lowe, wildlife biologist. “We started planning soon after we acquired that parcel in December 2005. We got two grants to fund the $91,000 contract.

“The riparian zone (stream corridor) had been ditched and drained in the ’30s so the valley bottom could be farmed. The reed canary grass that came in had little value for wildlife.”

By building a dike and plugging the old drainage ditches, a budding new wetland area is ready to begin recovering and recharging the water table with the spring thaw, he said.

Waterfowl aren’t the only wildlife benefiting from the project. Wetlands are important for everything from invertebrates and amphibians to big game, Lowe said.

“The trees along the riparian area were gone, so we worked with Inland Northwest Wildlife Council volunteers to plant 50 birch trees around a spring. This project is between two important sharp-tailed grouse breeding grounds, and birches are important to sharptails.”

DU is wrapping up a second phase of scabland projects and is looking at a third phase focusing on easements and restoration on private lands, particularly new additions and areas adjacent to Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge, Bonsignore said.