This summer, the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife (WDFW) proudly awarded four recipients for the 2023–2025 Watchable Wildlife Grant.
· Cowiche Canyon Conservancy in Yakima
· Cascadia Conservation District in Wenatchee
· Mid-Columbia Fisheries Enhancement Group in White Salmon
· Puget Sound Estuarium in Olympia
The Department’s Watchable Wildlife Grant began in 2021 and applications open every two years to individuals, nonprofits, schools, local and county governments, and — new this year — federally-recognized tribes in Washington. WDFW accepts grant applications for projects that create, improve, increase, and/or promote opportunities for communities to view or experience wildlife. This year, the Department had $30,000 to support selected applicants.
“This grant is incredibly competitive, and we received over 50 applications this year,” said WDFW’s Watchable Wildlife Coordinator, Kelsey Hansen. “We were thrilled with the amount of interest in this year’s grant opportunity, and it was challenging to select projects amongst the competitive applications. From pollinator gardens to live-stream wildlife cameras, there’s so much incredible work being done in this state for opportunities to experience wildlife. It’s exciting to be awarding some strong projects that will get people really connected with the wildlife and environments around them, particularly for underserved audiences.”
WDFW grant evaluators prioritized initiatives that were brought forward by or co-developed with underserved and marginalized communities. Ideal proposals benefitted or addressed barriers for underrepresented communities and/or applied diversity, equity, inclusivity, and belonging outdoors in their projects. This year’s projects are nothing short of inclusive and enriching for the communities the projects are in.
The Cowiche Canyon Conservancy (CCC) is a nonprofit land trust in Yakima. Their mission is to protect endangered shrubsteppe habitats and connect people to the land through conservation, recreation, and education. CCC lands have more than 50 miles of single-track trails open to the public for hiking, trail running, snowshoeing, mountain biking, and horseback riding. They offer free educational public events, including guided walks, lecture series, and a robust public school field trip program. Funds from this grant will be used to purchase binoculars, a spotting scope, and adaptive wildlife viewing equipment for people with disabilities.
CCC’s free educational programs provide the community with many wildlife watching opportunities in the Yakima Valley. CCC’s educational programming teaches shrubsteppe ecology and familiarizes people with CCC trails so they feel comfortable visiting again and again. Materials from this grant will greatly enhance wildlife viewing during their field programs and will increase access and inclusivity in their services.
“We are so excited about the expansion in services and quality of programming this grant funding will bring to CCC. Free equipment loans of binoculars and monoculars will greatly enhance the public’s experiences on CCC guided hikes. School age children who participate in our public school field trip programs will be over the moon to use their own set of kid-friendly binoculars to explore CCC lands and view wildlife. The addition of adaptive digiscoping equipment and other adaptive wildlife viewing equipment will allow CCC to offer a broader and more inclusive array of wildlife viewing opportunities for those who are unable to use traditional wildlife viewing equipment.”
The Cascadia Conservation District (CCD) is the conservation district that serves Chelan County with a mission of encouraging wise stewardship and conservation of all natural resources for current and future residents. A key objective for their organization is to educate both adults and youth about stewardship of natural resources and conservation.
CCD will lead an after-school program in the Wenatchee School District with 4th and 5th grade students called the Watching Wildlife After School Program (WWASP). Students will work with wildlife professionals to install trail cameras to watch, learn about, and monitor local wildlife. CCD will purchase trail cameras and accessories, and a portion of grant funds will support transportation costs for students to visit field sites to install and monitor the cameras. Quality images and videos will be uploaded onto the school and CCD’s social media sites and will be featured in CCD’s newsletter.
“We are thrilled to receive this award and cannot wait to have the students out in the field setting up trail cameras so that they can watch wildlife here in North Central Washington,” states Kirk Beckendorf, Environmental Educator with CCD.
The Mid-Columbia Fisheries Enhancement Group (MCFEG) is a nonprofit Regional Fisheries Enhancement Group working in Benton, Kittitas, Klickitat, and Yakima counties, and portions of Grant and Skamania counties. Their group is dedicated to protecting and restoring wild salmonid populations and their habitats through restoration, protection, education, and community involvement.
This grant project will increase the educational and recreational value of protected and restored habitat by bringing a diverse audience at least 600 students and their families from 10 Title I eligible schools to observe the salmon life cycle and spawning in the Cle Elum River. MCFEG will also create an online interactive map of watchable wildlife opportunities, including salmon spawning locations, in the Mid-Columbia region of Central Washington. The easy-to-use multilingual map will be free to users and will expand options for people to find wildlife viewing opportunities of many types in the region. The map will be supported and updated for at least five years.
“Mid-Columbia Fisheries is pleased for the opportunity to further salmon education field trips which foster understanding and a desire in local students to be good stewards of our natural systems,” said Mid-Columbia Fisheries Executive Director Margaret Neuman. “We are also excited to partner with the team at Northwest Portal to share regional wildlife viewing opportunities on an easy to use and phone-accessible mapping app. This new app will expand wildlife viewing opportunities beyond the traditional field trip audience to the greater community.”
The Puget Sound Estuarium is a nonprofit in Olympia whose mission is to foster learning opportunities that inspire people of all ages to connect with, protect, and enjoy the unique estuary environment of Puget Sound. Their vision is to create an educated community who is engaged and inspired to promote the health, conservation, and restoration of The Sound. The Estuarium primarily serves Thurston, as well as Pierce and Mason counties. Some of the programs receiving support through the Watchable Wildlife Grant are their “Meet the Beach” shoreline interpretation programs, night-time “Pier Peer” dock walks, and bird watching trips.
The Estuarium’s grant will help remove barriers to support underrepresented groups to engage in opportunities to learn about local wildlife. The grant will pay for transportation costs for people to visit local beaches and docks where they offer programs, as well as some attendance costs. A portion of grant funds will also help with purchasing accessible bird-watching gear and additional wildlife-viewing materials, such as magnifying glasses and identification guides.
“As the Puget Sound Estuarium continues to grow, we are very grateful to receive funding from WDFW to make sure our programs are still accessible to everyone in our community,” says Clarissa Felling, Program and Volunteer Coordinator at the Estuarium. “We are excited to offer transportation and new tools to help show people all the amazing life that can be found in our local estuary and learn how we are all connected to it.”
Coming full circle
Watchable Wildlife Grant funding comes from the Wild on Washington: Eagle license plate — one of the state’s specialized wildlife license plates. WDFW’s Watchable Wildlife Program is defined by RCW 77.32.560 and includes but is not limited to: Initiating partnerships with communities to jointly develop watchable wildlife projects, building infrastructure to serve wildlife viewers, assisting and training communities in conducting wildlife watching events, developing destination wildlife viewing corridors and trails, tours, maps, brochures, and travel aides, and offering grants to assist rural communities in identifying key wildlife attractions and ways to protect and promote them.
Because Washingtonians purchase the bald eagle license plate, these watchable wildlife projects will provide enjoyment, education, and access to wildlife viewing for communities of all ages and backgrounds across the state.
Interested in applying to the Watchable Wildlife Grant in the future? Grant applications will open again in the spring of 2025.
Feeling inspired to watch wildlife on your own, from home, or elsewhere? Find out how to get started and more on WDFW’s wildlife viewing webpage.