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Originally published Monday, November 9, 2009 at 12:10 AM

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Clark County land swap approved for nature reserve

The state Board of Natural Resources last week approved the transfer of 118 acres of state timberland to Clark County for $2.3 million. The agreement marks the first stage of a broader land swap involving the state, the county, a local family and the Vancouver-based nonprofit Columbia Land Trust.

The Columbian

VANCOUVER, Wash. — A nature reserve is beginning to take shape in the northwest corner of Clark County.

The state Board of Natural Resources last week approved the transfer of 118 acres of state timberland to Clark County for $2.3 million.

The agreement marks the first stage of a broader land swap involving the state, the county, a local family and the Vancouver-based nonprofit Columbia Land Trust.

"These are sensitive lands," said Pat Lee, legacy-lands program manager for the county.

The property deed includes a conservation easement — held by the land trust — requiring it to be permanently managed for forestry, precluding the possibility of home sites' spreading into an area envisioned as an oasis of habitat for fish and wildlife. Under current county land-use zoning, a total of eight home sites can be spread across the 118 acres. The state Department of Natural Resources was actively marketing the property for just that purpose as recently as 2007, Lee said.

The county's Conservation Futures fund, generated by a real-estate excise tax, is dedicated to purchase of farm, forest and open space. Once the sale is finalized, the money will go to the state's Common School Trust Fund, which generates money for school construction from timber sales on state trust land.

The county now plans to convey the land to the Morgan family, in return for the family's giving the county 320 to 340 nearby acres of equivalent value.

Lee noted that the area is strategically located between the 5,280-acre Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge and the 2,200-acre Lower East Fork Lewis River Greenway.

The area is a rich destination for waterfowl using the Pacific flyway as well as resident and Neotropical birds. Lee noted that it's a rare piece of lower Lewis River shoreline that's not diked or otherwise constrained, providing important cover, high-water refuge and rearing habitat for salmon.

"The entire piece has high ecological values," said Dan Roix, mid-river conservation lead for the trust.

Additional improvements to salmon habitat in the area may come through a recent $40.5 million commitment by the Bonneville Power Administration to the state. In return for Gov. Chris Gregoire's agreeing not to challenge the federal government's operation of hydroelectric dams in the Columbia Basin, the feds agreed to pour additional money into habitat improvements on the Washington side of the Columbia River estuary.

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