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Washington: Tide Returns to Nisqually Estuary

Many bird species resting at a wetland

This project is a model of how estuary restoration can happen while providing a mosaic of diverse habitats for fish and migratory birds, quality public access, and education. Photo: Jesse Barham, USFWS. Download.

Photo iconPhotos: Nisqually Restoration and Boardwalk Projects on Flickr

Video iconVideo: Rivers and Tides: Restoring the Nisqually Estuary

River delta restoration projects are considered crucial to provide increased resiliency to large estuary systems – a key tool for adaptation in the face of climate change and related impacts of sea level rise. The Nisqually estuary in Washington State is a shining example.

After a century of diking off tidal flow, the Brown Farm Dike was removed in October 2009, allowing tidal waters to once again inundate 762 acres of the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge near Olympia, Washington. 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 State, providing the potential to increase salt marsh habitat in the southern reach of Puget Sound by more than 50 percent. The projects have also initiated the restoration of more than 70 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,” says Refuge Manager Jean Takekawa. “Combined with the 140 acres previously restored by the Nisqually Indian Tribe, more than 900 acres of the Nisqually estuary have been restored.”

Restoration of the Nisqually estuary 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 being created, this large-scale restoration is expected to greatly improve regional ecological function, thereby significantly advancing the recovery of Puget Sound. The restoration coincides with a substantial increase in the approved Nisqually NWR boundary, making it possible to acquire more lands inland that could be restored in the future.

An aerial photo of Nisqually
A little more than one year after the removal of century-old dikes, tides move freely from Puget Sound into more than 760 acres of the restoring Nisqually estuary, allowing natural processes to once again shape the land. Photo: Jean Takekawa, USFWS.

A new, mile-long boardwalk, constructed with American Recovery and Reinvestment funds provides unique views of the restoring estuary to thousands of visitors. This project is a model of how an estuary can be restored while still providing a mosaic of diverse habitats for migratory birds, quality public access, and education.

Ongoing science monitoring is a key part of the restoration, led by a science team including U. S. Geological Survey, the Nisqually Tribe, and the refuge. 

The restoration project was supported by U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service funds and Ducks Unlimited contributions, as well as more than $5 million in grants from donors including: Puget Sound Acquisition and Restoration funds from all five South Sound watersheds; 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.


Climate Change Focus: Adaptation

Author: Jean Takekawa


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