Washington Fish and Wildlife Office
Pacific Region

Glacial Heritage Preserve: A Story of Restoration



Blooming camas (Photo: K. Flotlin, USFWS)
Blooming camas covering the Glacial Heritage Preserve, May 2013          (Photo: K. Flotlin, USFWS)

The Glacial Heritage Preserve, owned by Thurston County and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, is one of the premier prairie conservation sites in the South Puget Sound region. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has been an essential partner in funding and sharing technical expertise on the Preserve since 1994. The Nature Conservancy has helped manage the Preserve over the last eleven years, and most recently the Center for Natural Lands Management (CNLM) has taken over those duties. In that time, the Preserve has become a demonstration site for restoration and rare species conservation and is a focal point for community participation and appreciation of prairies and oak woodlands.

Over the next several weeks, this section of our USFWS website will present the background, amazing volunteer efforts and restoration results that have been a part of the Glacial Heritage Preserve restoration story. We hope you will find this story interesting, even inspiring, as you see one community’s successful efforts to bring back a unique and beautiful natural area.


Puget blue butterfly (Photo: R. Gilbert)  
Puget blue butterfly          (Photo: R. Gilbert)

In 1994, USFWS staff were invited to a meeting with Thurston County, The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to investigate a piece of County land (WDFW owned an 80-acre inholding) southwest of Littlerock, Washington. This 1020-acre parcel looked like it could be great prairie habitat if everyone were willing to put in the hard work required! Old- growth Scotch broom (really OLD, taller than any person with stems thicker than a broomstick) covered the place, but with a few persistent native grasses and forbs still in evidence! We thought these plants might grow back, with more light and nutrients, enabling the land to return to its more native prairie conditions.

Over the next two decades, TNC (and now the Center for Natural Lands Management), dedicated themselves to mowing and burning consistently so that native plants and critters (including butterflies) might return. We didn't see any results for at least eight to ten years, but each year there were more and more camas--the "tell-all" species when it comes to native prairie--until the blooms formed a waving sea of blue flowing over the Mima mound formations. In combination with the beautiful oak forest that was already present along the Black River bordering the property, the Glacial Heritage Preserve is not only lovely, but forms one of the most significant prairie remnants in the region.


From the beginning, our vision for the Glacial Heritage Preserve was to restore and maintain a rich mosaic of native habitats for a full complement of native plants and animals, including rare or endangered species in the South Sound region. Because the land contained a combination of grassland, oak woodland, coniferous forest and riparian habitats found on few locations today, we saw the Preserve as a central holding ground for conservation of both rare and common species and especially those associated with prairie and oak woodland habitats. In working toward this vision, the Preserve has been used as a site to demonstrate the effectiveness of best conservation practices, allowing conservationists from around the region to see first-hand the gains that can be obtained from strategic restoration and land management actions.

Ted Thomas, USFWS, gives a butterfly identification lesson                                            Photo: USFWS

The site and the restoration actions have also lent themselves to being a showcase for public learning and observation. The Preserve serves as a focal site for public participation in prairie restoration activities. Extra effort has been taken to incorporate volunteers, school groups and others into restoration actions. These actions have brought the public closer to the resources and developed a sense of appreciation and ownership for the site and prairies in general.

Check back for GLACIAL HERITAGE PRESERVE: A Story of Restoration Part 2


Last updated: June 26, 2013
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