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Shared Stories and Practices

Tide Returns to Nisqually Estuary

Nisqually estuary. Credit: USFWS
Nisqually estuary. Credit: USFWS

By U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Pacific Region.

River delta restoration projects are considered crucial to provide increased resiliency to large estuary systems and illustrate a tool for adaptation in the face of climate change and related impacts of sea level rise. After a century of diking off tidal flow, the Brown Farm Dike was removed to inundate 762 acres of Nisqually (WA) National Wildlife Refuge in October 2009. Along with 140 acres of tidal wetlands restored by the Nisqually Indian Tribe, the Nisqually Delta represents the largest tidal marsh restoration project in the Pacific Northwest to assist in recovery of Puget Sound salmon and wildlife populations.

During the past decade, the refuge and close partners, including the Tribe and Ducks Unlimited, have restored more than 22 miles of the historic tidal slough systems and re-connected historic floodplains to the Puget Sound in Washington, increasing potential salt marsh habitat in the southern reach of Puget Sound by 50 percent.  The project also restored 25 acres of riparian surge plain forest, an extremely depleted type of tidal forest important for juvenile salmon and songbirds.

“The project is an important step in the recovery of Puget Sound,” said Jean Takekawa, Refuge Manager. “Combined with the 140 acres previously restored by the Nisqually Indian Tribe, more than 900 acres of the Nisqually estuary have been restored.”

In addition to U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service funds and Ducks Unlimited contributions, more than $5 million to construct the project was received in grants from donors including: Puget Sound Acquisition and Restoration funds from all five South Sound watersheds and Salmon Recovery Funding Board funds from the Nisqually River Council; Estuary and Salmon Restoration Program funds administered by Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife; National Fish and Wildlife Foundation; and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

“The project is the result of the efforts of many people and partners over the years. It is a great example of what can be accomplished by working together,” Takekawa said.

Restoration of the Nisqually estuary is an adaptation approach that helps promote system resiliency to climate change effects such as:

  • Increased winter storms, rainfall, and flooding
  • Loss of forest cover due to increases in insect infestations and fire
  • Rise in sea level resulting in loss of shoreline areas
  • Loss of habitats and biodiversity

Because of the mosaic of estuarine habitats, this large-scale restoration is expected to result in a considerable increase in regional ecological functions and services, representing one of the most significant advances to date towards the recovery of Puget Sound. The restoration is paired with a substantial increase in the refuge boundary, making it possible to acquire more lands inland that could be restored in the future. A 1-mile long boardwalk is under construction, funded by American Recovery and Reinvestment funds, which will provide unique views of a restoring estuary to thousands of visitors. This project is a model of how estuary restoration can happen while still providing a mosaic of diverse habitats for migratory birds, quality public access, and education.

For more information about this project, visit the Nisqually Delta Restoration website at: For more information about the boardwalk project see:

Last updated: November 9, 2012
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