Historic prairie preserved by federal program


TENINO — Native prairie in South Puget Sound is vanishing. But thanks to the Grassland Reserve Program, administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service, one Washington family will be able to keep a piece of that prairie safe from development and true to its original roots.

The 216-acre easement on the Colvin ranch near Tenino represents the first such GRP project in Washington.

GRP is a voluntary program offering landowners the opportunity to protect, restore and enhance grassland, range land, pasture land and shrub land on their property through easements that utilize controlled grazing to maintain healthy prairie vegetation.

The program is focusing on enrolling existing high quality native grasslands that have the greatest biodiversity and the greatest risk of conversion to other, more intensive agricultural uses and/or commercial use.

"GRP conserves vulnerable grasslands while helping to maintain viable ranching operations," said Gus Hughbanks, NRCS state conservationist.

According to Hughbanks, grasslands provide critical ecological benefits that play a key role in environmental quality.

"GRP helps protect valuable grasslands from conversion to other land uses — thus helping to ensure this natural resource is available to future generations," he said.

The Colvin ranch, a Century Farm, was homesteaded in 1865 by Ignatius Colvin. Colvin settled in the Tenino area, on about 320 acres of the 250,000 acres of South Puget Sound native prairies.

Fred Colvin, the great-grandson of Ignatius, said he and his family looked at the GRP program as a tool to keep the ranch together for future generations — allowing private ownership on working agricultural lands.

"GRP will allow us to conserve working lands and maintain the native prairie, by using grazing as a management tool," Colvin said.

Generations of the Colvin family successfully operated the cattle ranch while maintaining the native prairie. The preservation and maintenance of this 216-acre native prairie area is now the basis of the Colvin family's GRP grazing plan. The prairie maintenance activities will be intensively managed through the livestock grazing plan developed

between the Colvin's and the NRCS.

According to the NRCS, prairies such as those owned by the Colvins are ecologically unique.

"These prairies are home to a specific composition of flora and fauna solely adapted to the cobbles and porous

soils formed on the out wash plain of the Vashon Glacier," Hughbanks said.

Hughbanks sees the easement as a win-win for farming and the environment.

"The acquisition of this easement constitutes a success for sustainable agriculture, proper grazing land stewardship, grassland ecology, and the conservation of priority habitats," he said.