State eyes wildlife habitat north of Merrill Lake

first_imgCOUGAR — The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife wants to acquire 1,400 acres north of Merrill Lake in Cowlitz County that includes massive old-growth fir and cedar, ancient lava flows and Kalama Falls.“This has all the features of a national park,” said Bill Richardson, Washington-Oregon lands program manager for the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.The foundation has secured a four-year option to buy the land from owners Merrill Lake LLC to stop additional logging or other development.Richardson said the option gives the Department of Fish and Wildlife time to apply for grants administered by the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program.The estimated cost of the 1,400 acres is $8 million. The acquisition might need to be done in phases.The scenic centerpiece of the parcel is 40-foot Kalama Falls near the headwaters of the Kalama River. But there also are 50-foot- deep tree casts and crystal-clear springs in the lava flows.“If people knew all the stuff in here, they’d be in here like crazy,” Richardson said.Ray Croswell of Washougal, a RMEF consultant, agreed.“It really is like a park,” he said.But the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation is interested in protecting and enhancing the 1,400 acres for wildlife.“This is winter range,” Richardson said. “So, it has both migratory and year-round elk. This is also a transition range. They’ll use it in the spring as they’re moving back up the slope. But this is also a prime calving ground. The couple of springs we’ve been working in here we’ve seen lots of elk calving.”About 40 percent of the 1,400 acres have been logged.Where many visitors see ugly clearcuts, Richardson sees a future grocery store for elk.Research has shown the limiting factor for elk populations in the Northwest generally is food. Lands recently logged are open to the sun and can be managed to produce grasses and other foods beneficial to elk.last_img

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