WASHINGTON, D.C. - The Nature Conservancy of Washington applauded the decision by Congress to appropriate $1 million to continue efforts to remove thousands of acres of spartina from Willapa Bay.

Spartina, or cordgrass, is a fast-growing and fast-spreading weed that is taking over the inter-tidal mudflats and native salt marshes of Willapa Bay, destroying habitat for thousands of shorebirds, waterfowl, and other estuarine-dependent animals.

The funds are part of Congress' Interior Appropriations bill. The Senate and House both finished work on the bill, and the president is expected to sign it soon.

The funds will go to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which owns and manages the 13,600-acre Willapa National Wildlife Refuge and is leading the effort to eradicate spartina from the bay. The appropriation will mark the second year in a row that Congress has funded spartina eradication efforts in Willapa Bay.

Refuge managers say the funding has already made a significant difference. Spartina currently covers about 12,000 acres of the bay's tidelands and has been increasing steadily over the past several years. Last year, for the first time since spartina took hold, the Fish and Wildlife Service and state agencies, among others, fighting the noxious weed were able to reduce the infestation, according to Charlie Stenvall, project leader for the Willapa refuge. All told, they treated about 5,000 acres, a portion of which will need to be retreated to ensure eradication, Stenvall said.

"We took out more than a third of the spartina. That's huge," Stenvall said. "For the first time, there's a sense of optimism in the community about our ability to save Willapa Bay. It will be incredibly hard, but it's not impossible if we have the resources to do it."

The Conservancy, which has been advocating on behalf of spartina-eradication for several years, said the support of Sen. Patty Murray and U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks has proven critical in securing much-needed funds to fight spartina. U.S. Rep. Brian Baird has also helped in this effort. Invasive weeds such as spartina are one of the most serious threats to our state's natural lands because of the way these non-native plants can completely displace native habitat and the species that depend on that habitat.

"The community effort to restore Willapa Bay is inspiring," said Sen. Murray. "I'm thrilled this funding will allow the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to continue to do its part. The Service and community deserve credit for their cooperative and aggressive approach to the problem."

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