Refuges strive for biological integrity, diversity and environmental health. Much of the management work of refuges is to maintain, enhance or restore intact and self-sustaining habitats and wildlife populations that existed during historic conditions.
Willapa National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) faces many unique management challenges. While the refuge includes many
pristine areas, it also includes many recent acquisitions where
considerable restoration effort is needed. It includes an amazing
diversity of habitats from ocean sand dune beaches to the sheltered
mudflats of the bay, from pristine old growth forests to open saltgrass
meadows. The refuge is home to several threatened species and is trying to restore habitat for many others. Like many
places, Willapa NWR is also coping with the threat of invasive species.
Western Snowy Plover
Western Snowy Plovers are small shorebirds
that nest on the Leadbetter Unit of Willapa National Wildlife Refuge.
They are part of the Pacific Coast population that breed from Washington
to Mexico and are listed as a threatened species by the U.S. Fish
& Wildlife Service. This is one of the two main nesting sites
in Washington. Their numbers have declined due to habitat loss and
degradation by invasive American and European beachgrasses, human disturbance, and increased nest predation.
In 2001, the refuge began habitat restoration efforts for the western
Snowy Plover at the Leadbetter Unit. Non-native, invasive beach
grass has been cleared, using a bull dozer, and as of the 2010 nesting
season, over 200 acres have been restored to open sand
beach habitat that plovers traditionally use. Oyster shell has been
added to the area to provide camouflaging for nests and plovers.
Oyster shell hides the eggs not only from predators, but from humans.
The Snowy Plover nesting season is from mid March through September
and it is during this critical time that plovers are easily disturbed.
Adults are frightened off a nest by people and their dogs coming
too close, which makes them vulnerable to being crushed or eaten
by predators. If disturbances are lengthy or frequent, the eggs
in the nest get buried by sand and will not hatch. For this reason,
the active plover nesting area of upper dry sand beach is closed
off to public use during the nesting season and no dogs are allowed
on the beach of the Leadbetter Unit.
Forest lands in the Willapa Bay area are dominated by commercial
timberlands. In fact, most of the forested acreage within either
the refuge or Willapa Bay watersheds is second or third growth timber.
Very little old growth or late-successional forest exists. One estimate
states that less than one percent of the original coastal old growth
remains. The largest old growth parcel in the refuge is the 274-acre Cedar Grove located on Long Island. Many of the 7000 forested
acres on the refuge are comprised of even-aged forest
stands lacking in biological diversity.
A variety of wildlife are dependent on old growth and late-successional
forests. Black bear, black-tailed deer, Roosevelt elk, salamanders,
forest-dwelling bats and other small mammals, marbled murrelets,
pileated woodpeckers and other forest birds and a host of rare fungi
and gastropods can be found in some refuge forests. Forest streams
also provide habitat for anadromous fish such as chinook, coho and
chum salmon and sea-run cutthroat trout.
Due to the degraded nature of refuge forests as well as those of
the surrounding areas, a major effort is needed to restore these
forests to a semblance of their natural state. The refuge has embarked
on a landscape-based forest management program in cooperation with
the Nature Conservancy, which manages the 7000 acre Ellsworth Creek
Preserve which is located adjacent to the refuge. Forest inventories
on both properties have been completed and a forest management plan
has been developed. Activities to restore forests include manipulation
of degraded forest stands through such techniques as variable density
thinning, direct reestablishment of under-represented tree and other
plant species, removal of non-native species and elimination of
unnecessary and deteriorating forest roads.
Invasive Plants-Spartina alterniflora
Willapa Bay is one of the top biologically pristine estuaries
remaining in the lower 48 states. Thousands of people depend on
the bay's renewable natural resources for their livelihoods. Thousands
more visit the bay each year to enjoy the natural beauty and recreational
In recent years, spartina grass--accidentally introduced from the
eastern United States--has exploded in Willapa Bay, threatening
the survival of both wildlife and the aquaculture industry in Willapa
Bay. Willapa National Wildlife Refuge has a partnership with a variety of groups including Washington State
University and University of Washington, Washington State Departments
of Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Wildlife, private landowners,
oyster growers, the Nature Conservancy, and other private interest
groups to eradicate spartina from Willapa Bay.
NWR, along with its partners, has been using a variety of methods to eradicate spartina from Willapa Bay before it does irreversible
damage. Where the spartina has formed large meadows, large amphibious machines with precision sprayers are used. These machines
are equipped with sensors that detect spartina, releasing chemical
only when over plants, minimizing impacts on other species. Helicopters are also used to aerially spray
large meadows and large clone fields. Spartina occurs mostly as isolated patches and hand-crews on airboats treat
the seedlings, individual plants, and small clones. Airboats can maneuver to difficult access areas. Rototilling, although useful in rehabilitating
selected areas for immediate use by shorebirds, is too slow to keep pace with spartina's rapid
Stream Enhancement & Restoration Helps Fish, Amphibians and Invertebrates
Stream enhancement and restoration improves habitat for refuge fish, amphibians and invertebrates. Enhancement or restoration efforts can include the addition of large woody debris and root wads to stream channels, removal of fish passage barriers (such as undersized culverts), and planting streamside vegetation to increase shade. Optimal stream habitat provides protective cover, improved forage, and structural diversity that results in the formation of in-stream riffles and pools for anadromous fish, especially adult and juvenile salmon and cutthroat trout. Healthy streams support a diverse riparian and estuarine plant and wildlife community. Enhancement work benefits other stream-dependent wildlife species, including the western brook lamprey, rare amphibian species and invertebrates, such as the Western pearlshell mussel and a large variety of aquatic insects.
Caught! Western Brook Lamprey Get Help From Refuge Biologists
Western brook lampreys have received a helping hand. In 2010, fifty western brook lamprey ammocoetes (teenage lamprey) were caught in Bear River and moved to Omera Point Creek. One hundred additional ammocoetes were released in 2011. Refuge staff continues to keep track of populations through spring spawning surveys. Read more about fish surveys below.
Western brook lamprey ammocoetes look very similar to their cousins the Pacific lamprey at this life stage. Refuge staff must carefully identify them before they can be relocated to their new location.
Learn more about the lampreys of Willapa National Wildlife Refuge
Surveying Refuge Fish Populations
Fish populations are important indicators of habitat health. Historically, coastal streams had abundant and diverse fish populations, including salmoninds such as coho and chum salmon. A variety of land-uses, such as forestry practices, road building, agriculture, diking and other development, as well as over fishing and the arrival of invasive species have all taken a toll on area streams and the wildife that require them for their survival.
One way to monitor stream health is to conduct fish surveys. Refuge staff and volunteers set and check traps, make observations while walking along a stream or use a snorkel. Electrofishing
of streams is also conducted by trained individuals. Electrofishing stuns fish and allows staff to locate fish that may otherwise be hidden or move to fast to be identified. Reproductive, or spawning, surveys are completed each season to monitor salmonid and lamprey returns to spawning sites throughout the refuge. Refuge staff and volunteers have documented populations of fish, amphibians and insects, including several rare species, in refuge streams.
Federal species of concern found on the refuge include coastal cutthroat trout, Pacific lamprey, and river lamprey. Through careful monitoring, we can say that some streams at Willapa National Wildlife Refuge host healthy populations of both cutthroat and coho, as well as other fish species. Monitoring can also indicate if populations are not present or in decline.
Comprehensive Conservation Planning
Comprehensive Conservation Plans (CCPs) describe the desired future conditions of a refuge and provide long-range guidance and management direction to achieve refuge purposes; help fulfill the National Wildlife Refuge System (Refuge System) mission; maintain and, where appropriate, restore the ecological integrity of each refuge and the Refuge System; help achieve the goals of the National Wilderness Preservation System; and meet other mandates.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) is pleased to announce the release of the final
Comprehensive Conservation Plan (CCP) for Willapa National Wildlife Refuge. In 2008, the Refuge initiated a planning process called "Comprehensive Conservation Planning" to review the wildlife, habitat and public use activities on Willapa National Wildlife Refuge. The purpose of the CCP is to guide management of these resources for the next 15 years. The Record of Decision (ROD) was signed in September 2011 and the Service will begin implementing proposed projects and partnerships as funding becomes available.
For more specific information on the planning process at Willapa NWR please visit our CCP Website.