Habitat Restoration

Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge consists of a variety of habitat types including saltmarsh, open mudflat, freshwater marsh, open grassland, riparian woodland, and upland forest. Refuge managers are constantly re-evaluating the quality of these habitats, looking for ways to improve them and increase their value for wildlife. These improvements are considered habitat restoration or enhancement. Currently, the Refuge is involved in active restoration and enhancement of saltwater marsh and estuary, freshwater marsh, riparian woodland, and upland forest habitats.

Over time, freshwater wetlands may become choked with invasive plants such as reed canarygrass and common cattail. These species tend to crowd out native vegetation and increase the buildup of sediments, in effect creating a shallower wetland. At Nisqually NWR we have re-sculpted some of our freshwater wetlands, scraping off the thick root mat of the grasses and reeds, recontouring the landscape in order to hold water at certain depths for longer periods of time, and creating a mix of open water and vegetated habitats.

There are many freshwater sloughs that occur throughout Nisqually NWR. Many of them currently have a very narrow wooded area on either side. These wooded areas are riparian woodlands and are important for nesting and migrating neotropical birds as well as other wildlife. We have planted thousands of trees and shrubs along these sloughs over the past 4 years in an effort to establish and widen riparian corridors. For the first few years, we protect the plantings with individual plant protectors. These plant protectors are plastic blue or brown tubes that allow light to pass through, but protect the plant from herbivorous animals that may damage the plant before it becomes well established on the site.

The west bluff that overlooks McAllister Creek is an upland site. It was once a healthy coniferous forest, but was slated for development and was clear cut in 1990. Nisqually NWR purchased the property in 1995. The timber harvesting left the parcel denuded of vegetation except for a narrow forested outer edge and a few scattered large trees, making it vulnerable to Scotch Broom, an invasive and non-native shrub. Restoration on this site began in 1999, including yearly Scotch Broom control and conifer plantings. Since 2001, Komachin Middle School (Lacey, WA) students and teachers have volunteered each year to help us with restoration efforts by planting thousands of Douglas Fir trees. To date, they have planted over 21,000 trees! By restoring this site to a coniferous forest, we hope to improve the stability of the bluff, improve water quality in McAllister Creek and the Nisqually River estuary, and improve habitat for many fish and migratory birds.

A hallmark of the Nisqually NWR Comprehensive Conservation Plan – and a dramatic change for the Refuge – is the restoration of historic estuarine habitat. To restore the estuary, the Brown Farm Dike was removed in 2009. 762 acres have been returned to tidal influence, reconnecting much of the historic slough system in the Nisqually delta to Puget Sound, creating a more complete and functional estuarine system and contributing to the restoration of a critical but vanishing habitat in the region. A new but shorter trail system will be built for public use and enjoyment, including a boardwalk extension into the estuary.

Nisqually NWR has partnered with Washington Conservation Corps to place a field crew of 5-6 corps members on the Refuge. The corps members do most of the tree and shrub planting. Many Refuge Volunteers and other volunteer groups have also helped the Refuge in habitat restoration efforts, including tree planting and invasive species removal. If you are interested in volunteering your time, please contact the Refuge office, (360) 753-9467, or visit our Volunteer Program page.