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Rare species are finding a home in restored South Puget Sound prairie

Highlights in Conservation icon

Rare species are finding a home in restored South Puget Sound prairie

Blooming blue camas and yellow buttercup flowers color the South Puget Sound prairie. The prairie provides vital habitat for Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly, a state endangered butterfly species.

Blooming blue camas and yellow buttercup flowers color the South Puget Sound prairie. The prairie provides vital habitat for Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly, a state endangered butterfly species.

Location icon
Thurston County, near Olympia

Project Summary icon
Restoration of South Puget Sound prairie by controlling invasive vegetation, removing invading conifer trees and planting prairie plants

Conservation Partners icon
The Nature Conservancy, Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR), Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFW), Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), Wolf Haven International, Oregon Zoo, Fort Lewis (US Army), Thurston County Parks and Recreation.

Resource Challenges icon
Historically the South Puget Sound prairies covered 150,000 acres, mostly in Pierce and Thurston Counties. Prairies have been reduced 90 percent by changes in human activities and invasion of weedy species and conifers. Only 3 percent of the original prairie is in pristine condition. This is both an ecological and cultural landscape. Ecologically many species rely on this habitat in what would otherwise historically have been extensive, nearly unbroken forest. These include many plant and animal species such as butterflies, birds, reptiles, and mammals dependent on the prairie environment. Many of these species have state and/or federal listing status under state or federal endangered species legislation. This is also a cultural landscape because the prairie is the result of thousands of years of management by Native Americans to maintain this open landscape for the food and other resources provided by plants, birds, and mammals.

Conservation Program Used icon
NRCS Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program (WHIP) has been used on the South Puget Prairies since 1998 to help restore this landscape by controlling invasive species and encroaching conifers and planting prairie species and oaks.

Innovations and Highlights icon
Methods of successfully restoring the prairie plant community have been developed over time. These methods are the hard work of many partners. The partners have formed the South Puget Sound Prairie Landscape Working Group to share information learned and help foster the work of prairie restoration. More information is available on the web site www.southsoundprairie.org.

Results and Accomplishments icon
We are now seeing the fruits of the work of restoration. Last year prairie partners were able to capture many Mazama pocket gophers from development sites and move them to a property that has had habitat improvement work through the WHIP program and other partners. Golden Indian Paintbrush has been reintroduced by USFWS and The Nature Conservancy onto a parcel that has benefitted from work under the WHIP program. In May 2007, WDFW announced the emergence from larvae of the state’s first captive-reared endangered butterfly on land that has improved habitat resulting in part from assistance from the WHIP program. Before this, there was only one site in Thurston County that still had a population of Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly. That site is enrolled in WHIP in 2007 for habitat improvement. The caterpillars were reared in captivity at the Oregon Zoo and moved to the southwest Thurston County prairie site as larvae. As a result of the work of many, including the NRCS WHIP program, prairie species are finding homes in restored habitat.

Contact icon
Monica Hoover, Olympia Field Office, (360) 704-7752

NRCS, Spring 2007

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