Nisqually Land Trust completes $10.5M wildlife corridor project near Mount Rainier

The Nisqually Land Trust Thursday announced the successful completion of a 2,500 acre, $10.5 million wildlife corridor connecting local, state, and federally protected lands near the main entrance to Mount Rainier National Park.

The Land Trust completed the corridor with the purchase of 520 acres of environmentally sensitive land in Pierce County from the Hancock Timber Resource Group. The purchase was one of the largest in the Land Trust’s history.

Known as the Mount Rainier Gateway Initiative, the Land Trust project is located directly north of the community of Ashford, between Gifford Pinchot National Forest and Elbe Hills State Forest.

“The areas connected by this corridor are home to spotted owls, marbled murrelets, bald eagles, elk, cougar, and many other species,” said Joe Kane, Executive Director of the Nisqually Land Trust. “Protected corridors are critical to their survival, especially in the face of threats like climate change. They allow wildlife to adapt to habitat changes by traveling from low country to high, from east to west and north to south, and from timberlands to river bottoms.”

The Land Trust purchased the property with a federal land-acquisition grant through the Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR). As part of the multi-party transaction, DNR will hold a conservation easement on the property in perpetuity, ensuring its use as habitat and preventing future development.

“A conservation easement in one of many tools that DNR has in the tool box to preserve lands,” said Commissioner of Public Lands Peter Goldmark. “But it is the collaboration and the leadership of the Nisqually Land Trust and the Nisqually Tribe that are making it possible to protect critical habitat, like this, near the entrance to Mount Rainier National Park.”

The Nisqually Indian Tribe, which helped provide funding for the project, will assist the Land Trust in managing the site’s natural resources.

“We are proud to be able to help acquire and preserve this vital environmental resource,” said Cynthia Iyall, chair of the Nisqually Indian Tribe. “This partnership further illustrates the Nisqually’s strong commitment to protecting and enhancing environmentally sensitive lands and habitats. Our tribe is honored to be part of this effort.”

The purchase is the third the Land Trust has made from Boston-based Hancock Timber to build the corridor. “Conservation transactions require a lot of patience,” Kane said, “and we are grateful to Hancock Timber for working so diligently with us on all of these acquisitions.” All told, the Land Trust has purchased 1,840 acres from the company over the past four years.

“We have great respect for Nisqually Land Trust, a respect that has only grown over the past four years, as we’ve worked with them to complete the protection of this important wildlife corridor,” said Mike Wolf, President of Hancock Timber’s Forest Management Operations across North America. “We take great satisfaction in knowing that our shared, deep commitment to protecting environmentally sensitive land has resulted in this land being conserved and enjoyed for generations to come.”

The Land Trust’s purchase represents Phase III of its Mount Rainier Gateway Initiative, which has as its goal the protection of critical wildlife habitat while also supporting the local economy. The Land Trust launched the initiative in 2006 in response to local concerns about the impact of timber harvests on scenic vistas vital to the tourism economy.

“To protect habitat in perpetuity, you have to make it part of a sustainable system,” said Kane. “In the Ashford area, that system includes working forests, recreational opportunities, and a commitment to the long-term health of the community.” Kane said the purchase includes a portion of the Mount Tahoma Trails Association’s hut-to-hut cross-country ski trail, the largest no-fee hut system in the country.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service funded the transaction with a grant from its Cooperative Endangered Species Conservation Fund. Winning the grant was the result of a partnership that included the Nisqually Land Trust, the Washington Department of Natural Resources, the Nisqually River Council, and the Nisqually Headwaters Coalition, an Ashford-based citizens group.

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