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WSU Enrolls Chicona Farm in Wetlands Reserve Project

PUYALLUP — If Lewis and Clark could return and camp again on the land now occupied by the Chicona Farm near Chinook, in Pacific County, they probably could get a good night’s sleep. But not for much longer.

When the explorers camped on the land Nov. 15-25, 1805 they found the wetlands that would become the Chicona Farm an inhospitable camp site. The constant quacking of ducks made it impossible to get a good night’s sleep, so the explorers moved their camp, says Gail Clowers, a WSU farm and maintenance manager.

Eventually the wetland was drained and farmed. The Albion Giles family willed the property to the WSU Puyallup Research and Extension Center, which has leased it out since the early 1980s to generate income to finance research at the Puyallup Center.

Most recently, Fort James has leased the farm to grow hybrid poplar trees. But it is giving up its lease, so WSU Puyallup has filed an application to enroll the property in the Wetlands Reserve Program operated by the Natural Resource Conservation Service.

Clowers expects final easement papers will be signed with NRCS in August or September and remediation will begin to restore the property to its original wetlands condition.

Dean Glawe, WSU Puyallup director, said enrolling the Chicona property in the wetlands program is a major event in the longstanding effort to restore salmon and waterfowl habitat in the Chinook Watershed.

WSU will receive $2,000 per acre for putting the land in the program. This will raise about $1.7 million. These funds will be used to establish an endowment that will help WSU Puyallup refocus the center’s programs in areas of high importance to the future of western Washington.

“We are very excited,” Glawe said. “It will provide funds to drive new program initiatives at the Puyallup Research and Extension Center. Having endowment funds for graduate assistantships, visiting scholars, equipment matches and other uses will greatly accelerate our progress and will make the Puyallup Center a much more significant contributor to the future success of the WSU system,” he said.

Glawe said NRCS will pay a lump sum for the appraised value of the property. ” We retain title and can still use it for any approved compatible use.” Clowers said it could be leased to hunting clubs, or to someone who wanted to conduct research. Remediation costs will be fully paid by NRCS. That cost is estimated at $255,000 to $340,000.

Glawe said income from the endowment comes at a critical time as WSU Puyallup is in the process of reinventing itself. “The make or break issues for western Washington agriculture these days are really environmental issues,” Glawe said. “We’re in transition. It is really wonderful to suddenly have these kinds of financial resources to help us through this transition. We’re really looking at rebuilding the center for the next 100 years.”

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