Ducks Unlimited and its partners recently completed a fee title acquisition in the Channeled Scablands region of eastern Washington. The acquired property is part of the 1,100-acre habitat project area known as the Saltese Flats, located in Spokane County and recognized by DU; federal state, and local agencies; and other partners as an important area for waterfowl, other waterbirds, and raptors. The area also provides a prime opportunity to protect and restore large tracts of wetland and riparian habitat.
The Saltese Flats once supported a shallow lake and marsh that spanned 1,200 acres. Beginning in the 1890s and continuing through the early 1900s, a system of ditches, dikes, and levees was constructed to drain the marshy area for agriculture. Once converted, lakebed wetlands were farmed continuously for more than a century. Between 2010 and 2012, Spokane County purchased 510 acres of the drained lakebed and an additional 552 upland acres along the eastern edge of the Flats. The county intends to complete a substantial wetland restoration project, and planning is currently under way. The upland tract is now the Saltese Uplands Conservation Area, part of the county's system of conservation areas that provide recreational opportunities to the public.
This past June, DU facilitated the purchase of an additional 60 acres of lakebed property that will be owned and managed by Spokane County. Funds for the acquisition came from a North American Wetlands Conservation Act grant. The county's purchase of the Saltese Uplands Conservation Area tract provided essential matching funds for the grant. Landowners Joe and Joanne Pettit generously donated a portion of the land value to DU through a bargain sale transaction.
In coordination with the landowners and Spokane County staff, DU biologists and engineers have developed a preliminary habitat restoration plan for the newly acquired property. Additional project planning and fundraising will be completed this year, with implementation planned for 2016. Project activities will include the restoration of wetlands supporting emergent and submerged aquatic vegetation, grassland, and riparian shrub habitats. These restoration activities will complement similar efforts planned for the neighboring upland property.
A variety of migratory waterfowl and other wildlife species will benefit from the protection and restoration of the Saltese Flats property. The proposed restoration work will improve nesting, brood-rearing, and foraging habitat for waterfowl, shorebirds, other waterbirds, upland-nesting birds, and raptors.