WILDLIFE HABITAT -- An agreement between an elk conservation group, the state and a land developer has permanently protected and opened access to 297 acres of riparian habitat in southwest Washington at the foot of Mount St. Helens.
The property includes the northern shoreline of Merrill Lake, which was formed when the prehistoric lava flows from the volcano blocked streams.
The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation collaborated with Merrill Lake Properties LLC and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to place the acreage in the public’s hands with WDFW assuming management.
“We are grateful to a landowner that understands and appreciates the conservation value of this area,” said Blake Henning, RMEF vice president of Lands and Conservation. “Merrill Lake Properties LLC could have easily offered up these waterfront properties to the highest bidder on the open market which could have led to development, a lack of access and adverse impacts on the fishery and wildlife.”
The property provides winter range and year-round habitat for elk, black-tailed deer, black bears, cougars, salmon and steelhead. It also features both old growth tree stands, which survived previous volcanic blasts, as well as early seral forest growth.
“This Merrill Lake acquisition is the start of a purchase plan that provides a major benefit for public access and for protecting habitat for several animal species, including winter range for elk," said Guy Norman, WDFW regional director in Vancouver.
He said the agency plans to keep working with RMEF to secure the money to purchase the remaining 1,150 acres of the property.
Funding for the first phase of this project came from a nearly $2 million grant from the Washington Recreation and Conservation Funding Board.