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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Volunteers raise money, get boots on the ground in effort to restore shrub-steppe burned near Spokane

Male sage-grouse fight for the attention of females southwest of Rawlins, Wyoming, in May 2008. Area volunteers hope to improve the shrub-steppe areas burned last summer that are necessary for healthy sage-grouse habitat.  (Jerret Raffety)

This past summer’s forest fires scorched prime habitat through Eastern Washington and pushed already embattled sage-grouse further onto the ropes of extinction.

Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife biologists estimate that half of the state’s 700 or so sage-grouse died this summer. The fires also killed half of the remaining Columbia Basin pygmy rabbits.

Fires also burned prime habitats for the short-eared owls, sage thrashers, sagebrush sparrows, loggerhead shrikes, sagebrush lizards, pygmy short-horned lizards, jackrabbits, Washington ground squirrels, badgers and the recently reintroduced pronghorns.

All of which has spurred the Inland Northwest Wildlife Council to do something, first by raising money and now by getting boots on the ground.

The conservation group’s members – alongside other area do-gooders – have come out in force.

The fundraising effort brought in $16,535, which has been used to “purchase seeds, shrubs and trees for the Swanson Lakes Wildlife Area,” INWC executive director Marie Neumiller said in an email.

Council members raised $5,000. The Ziegler family donated an additional $5,000 in honor of Vern Ziegler. The Spokane Audubon Society chipped in $1,000 and private donations ranging from $5 to $500 added an additional $5,535.

“We worked with WDFW to design a food plot seed mix specifically for our area and we sold that mix as a part of our wildfire recovery fundraiser,” Neumiller said in an email. “The goal of that project was to encourage local landowners to create wildlife habitat on their lands to help protect our herds, while also raising money to be split between the INWC conservation efforts and the wildfire recovery effort on WDFW lands. We sold out of the first order for that food plot seed mix, but we will have about five extra bags this round. If we get enough people signed up on our wait list, we can do a second order with our seed company.”

Now the recovery work is entering its second phase, boots on the ground. Volunteers.

The first volunteer planting project will be Monday through Wednesday at the Swanson Lakes Wildlife Area.

Volunteers will plant shrub and grass seeds in an effort to restore burned habitat.

Sage-grouse hens depend on shrubs to nest under and sharp-tail grouse depend on tall grasses to provide cover for their nests.