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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Tuesday, August 14, 2012
Scott Clark, Planning Director at (360) 709-3005

Thurston County Awarded Federal Conservation Grant

OLYMPIA - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today that Thurston County was awarded a $750,000 grant for the development of the South Puget Sound Prairie Habitat Conservation Plan. The grant is part of the Cooperative Endangered Species Conservation Fund, a competitive grant program that awarded nearly $33 million to programs and projects in 21 states this year.

"We're one of only 18 recipients of a Habitat Conservation Planning Assistance grant in the country this year, and I think that really shows our commitment to finding that balance between development and preservation," said Thurston County Commission Chair Cathy Wolfe. "We're absolutely committed to maintaining local control and giving landowners some certainty and stability when it comes to land use, and I believe we can successfully balance those needs with a commitment to habitat protection and maintaining the county's rural character and agricultural heritage."

Thurston County is partnering with the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife and others to develop a comprehensive plan to protect the remaining three percent of high quality prairie land that exists in the South Puget Sound region, as well as the numerous plant and animal prairie species that are either endangered, threatened, or a species of concern.

Grant-funded work the county will undertake includes detailed land surveys and creating a prairie land inventory, as well as extensive outreach to private landowners, who hold most of the remaining undeveloped prairie land. County staff will also research and develop various land use policies, programs and incentives that will help restore and preserve remaining prairie habitat. The land use policies and programs will be focused on long-term habitat preservation goals, designed to give landowners certainty about land use and development regulations for many years.

"Once we gather the baseline data, reaching out to landowners in Thurston County and getting them engaged in the process will be the next critical part of our effort," said county Planning Director Scott Clark. "We have a patchwork of prairie lands right now, with some of it owned by the county, some by the state, some is federal land, and a lot of it is privately owned, so the only way we can succeed in protecting prairie land and prairie species is if we're all on the same page and we all work together cooperatively."

The $750,000 federal planning assistance grant announced today is in addition to a $450,000 federal grant awarded in 2011 for the prairie preservation program. Authorized by Section 6 of the Endangered Species Act, these competitive grants encourage government agencies to work with private landowners, conservation groups and other government partners to create habitat plans and acquire and protect critical habitats that support threatened and endangered species.

For more information about the county's South Puget Sound Prairie Habitat Conservation Plan, contact Planning Director Scott Clark at clarks@co.thurston.wa.us or (360) 709-3005. To learn more about the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife Cooperative Endangered Species Conservation Fund and today's grant announcements, go to www.fws.gov. For more information about Thurston County's planning programs, including prairie protection efforts, visit www.ThurstonPlanning.org.



County Commissioners:

Carolina Mejia
District 1

Gary Edwards
District 2

Tye Menser
District 3