WDFW teams up with WCC to get tasks done, get young people into conservation careers
The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) has a unique partnership with the Washington Conservation Corps (WCC), a program through the Department of Ecology, that helps young adults between the ages of 18 and 25 and veterans gain experience and begin a career in natural resources management.
WDFW staff in north central Washington hired a six-person crew of WCC program participants for the first time in 2021 to focus on tasks and projects within the Columbia Basin Wildlife Area that the Department doesn’t have the resources to efficiently tackle. These projects included habitat restoration, road and trail clearing, trash pickup, invasive plant removal, and more. These paid volunteers receive funding through a variety of sources, including federal duck stamp funds, Bonneville Power Administration mitigation funds, Bureau of Reclamation Title 28 funds, and WDFW’s fire restoration funds, to name a few.
To see how beneficial this partnership would be to both WDFW and the WCC program, we tracked what the crew accomplished in 2021, and it was a lot. Here are some of the highlights:
Weed and invasive plant management
· Additional Canada thistle was also treated on areas of restored habitat in the Warden area.
· Spent several weeks removing invasive Russian olive trees near the Frenchman Public Access, along Rocky Ford Creek, at Birdwatcher’s Corner, along Harris Road, and at the Winchester excavation area- a site that is being restored to its original condition to improve habitat for wildlife.
The WCC crew has been instrumental in cleaning up chronic problem areas by removing litter and discarded animal carcasses in areas surrounding Moses Lake, including the Gloyd Seeps Unit, Sand Dunes Road and Powerline Road areas of the Potholes Unit, Red Rock Reservoir, Quincy Lakes Unit, Seep Lakes Unit, Caliche and Martha Lakes. They focus efforts on access sites before major fishing openers and clean up large illegal dumps left behind by semi-permanent camps, such as at Corral Lake.
A total of 17 miles of derelict barbed wire fence was removed from areas across the wildlife area. In some instances, they only removed barbed wire strands that remained following wildfires, but they also removed fences that no longer had a purpose and were left over from years past. Crews removed fencing from an area of the Gloyd Seeps Unit that was so remote they had to pack the wire and posts out on their backs.
The WCC crew also repaired over six miles of old and fire-damaged fencing, which included replacing line and posts as needed and at times, realigning fences.
Public access management
WCC crews undertook a variety of actions to make accessing public areas more enjoyable, such as clearing roadsides in the North Potholes area and repairing gates, fencing and signage at various public access areas in the corridor between Ephrata and Quincy.
During the fire season, they helped post and maintain Emergency Fire Restriction and Day Use Only Signs in response to high fire danger during the months of July, August, and September.
· Planted 2,000 grass seedlings at the Frenchman Hills Regulated Access Area to enhance dense nesting cover for waterfowl production. This effort is part of an ongoing development and management project funded by the Bonneville Power Administration.
· Collected enough sagebrush seed to plant about 200 acres for restoration of WDFW lands following the Pearl Hill wildfire. Collection of these tiny seeds is an arduous, time-consuming effort documented in this video.
· Performed a variety of tasks stemming from the 243 Command Fire, including bird feeder repair, fence removal and repair, and Russian olive removal. The crew also spent eight days removing hazardous trees that had burned along Lower Crab Creek Road.
· Helped with a variety of tasks at the Winchester Wetland Excavation Project, where large ponds are being excavated to enhance waterfowl production and hunting opportunity. The WCC crew installed gates to keep cattle out of newly seeded areas and planting native trees and shrubs to replace former Russian olive stands.
· Planted 1,000 sagebrush and bitterbrush plugs to supplement previous plantings following a wildfire in 2017.
· Constructed dove traps for use by district wildlife staff to trap and band doves,
· Assisted in surveys for northern leopard frogs,
· Helped disassemble an unused ADA hunting blind as well as building blinds at the Frenchman Regulated Access Area and Rocky Ford, and
· Operated and maintained irrigation systems on two units of the wildlife area.
In all, this small army of young adults accomplished an impressive amount in a year’s time. While their actions were a major help to regional WDFW staff, crew members also benefitted by having a great addition to their resume, contacts within the industry, and experiences of a lifetime. Members of the public who visit lands managed by WDFW get a safer, more enjoyable experience through this partnership.