The US Fish and Wildlife Service, US Army Corps of Engineers and Diking District 4 have reached an agreement over construction of a dike set back from the eroding Steamboat Slough Dike along the Julia Butler Hansen National Refuge for the Columbian White-tail Deer.
Fish and Wildlife's Willapa Complex Manager Jackie Ferrier said March 14 that the federal agencies had made commitments to allow diking district access to the new dike that satisfied Diking District Commissioner Maurice Mooers. The USFWS has also committed to being a partner with the diking district, Ferrier said, and the agreement also provides limited road access for Wahkiakum County, she said.
Steamboat Slough dike is eroding, and none of the agencies have funds for repairing the dike, which is no longer included in the Corps's dike maintenance program. However, the Corps of Engineers has proposed using salmon habitat enhancement funds to build the setback dike and breach the existing dike to create wetland habitat for juvenile salmonids.
In a March 8 letter to Col. John Eisenhauer, regional commander for the Corps, Mooers expressed agreement with the plan and new commitments and listed the points he wanted addressed to ensure the integrity of the diking district.
"While the District would have strongly preferred an approach that retained the existing dike," the letter said, "the District will support the project and provide the necessary cooperation. The District finds it imperative that the following issues are addressed in the design:
"--Enabling safe and efficient access to the dike by the Diking District and maintenance activities;
"--Enabling safe and efficient movement of emergency vehicles across the dike, and
"--Enabling safe access to the dike for non-motorized public uses.
"The District will work with the Corps and USFWS to provide the real estate rights for the Project which may include releasing portions of the District's dike and easement rights along Steamboat Slough Road."
With the agreement, Ferrier said, the Corps is now kicking the project into high gear. However, there will be permit applications and review, and work on the ground isn't expected to start until next fall.
In the meantime, the Fish and Wildlife Service is continuing its efforts to relocate white-tails from the refuge and nearby islands to preserve a remnant of the herd in case the dike fails before the setback dike is built.
The agency hopes to relocate 50 deer to the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge, and as of Thursday, they had trapped and moved 22 deer, Ferrier said, including one each from Puget and Cottonwood islands.
The trapping effort is moving slowly, Ferrier said, and next Tuesday, the agency will bring in a helicopter to herd deer into nets.
USFWS spokesman Doug Zimmer added that the agency hasn't caught as many as desired, and a deadline is approaching. The helicopter is budgeted for one day, and flying will depend on the weather.