The Nisqually Land Trust and the Nisqually Indian Tribe have entered into a historic partnership, purchasing 2,200 acres and over three miles of critical salmon habitat along Busy Wild Creek on the flanks of Mount Rainier.
The groups spent almost $10 million dollars aggregately along the creek, which is part of the headwaters of Mashel River, which flows into the Nisqually River.
“In simultaneous transactions totaling $9.6 million, the Nisqually Tribe purchased 1,240 acres and the Land Trust acquired 960 adjoining acres,” a news release said. “In turn, both properties adjoin the Nisqually Community Forest and will be incorporated into its management plan, effectively doubling its size.”
Threatened Nisqually Chinook salmon and steelhead trout have been thrown a lifeline with this partnership, the release states, with the species needing extra attention along the Mashel River and Busy Wild Creek, according to the Nisqually Chinook Recovery and Steelhead Recovery plans.
The move marks the largest transaction in the land trust’s 32-year history and is the Tribe’s first industrial-timberland acquisition.
“It’s really a repatriation of lands historically used by the Nisqually people,” said David Troutt, director of the Tribe’s Natural Resources Department. “And we see this as just a beginning.”
Land Trust Executive Director Jeanette Dorner said the Tribe has been the trust’s primary partner.
“But this project brings that partnership to a new level, and one that we couldn’t be more proud of,” Dorner said.
Three Washington state conservation projects helped fund the project. The Tribe purchased its portion of the property with a long term low-interest loan through the Department of Ecology’s Clean Water State Revolving Fund. A joint grant received from the Recreation and Conservation Office’s new Community Forest program, and the state’s new Streamflow Restoration program was also used.
The Nisqually Land Trust further financed its purchase by securing one of the first grants awarded under the state’s new Streamflow Restoration program, administered by the Department of Ecology.
“Steelhead have taught us that we have to think big,” said former Land Trust Executive Director Joe Kane, who coordinated the project. “They need big landscapes. They go high and they go far. They’re telling us that we have to be creative.”
Kane is now the general manager of the Nisqually Community Forest.
The project also gives a permanent home for a popular portion of the Mount Tahoma Trains Association’s hut-to-hut cross-country ski trail, stated the release.
“That trail is used by over 5,000 people every year,” Kane said. “It provides high-quality public recreation and it’s a local economic factor.”
Kane said the forest has been managed to improve its habitat values through the use of local logging crews that sent the logs to local mills.