In 1974, in recognition of the area's unique fish and wildlife resources, Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge was established to protect the Nisqually River Delta with approval by the Migratory Bird Conservation Commission. Approximately 2,925 acres of the 7,415 acres within the approved boundary have been acquired. Legal authorities used for the establishment of the Refuge include the Migratory Bird Conservation Act and Fish and Wildlife Act of 1956.
Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually Refuge plays an increasingly important role in the protection of the Nisqually River Delta and the lower Nisqually River watershed. The Refuge consists of a diverse mosaic of habitats, including, marine waters, forest, freshwater wetlands, grassland, and upland forest. The Refuge has international significance as a staging area, sanctuary, and migration stopover for migratory birds of the Pacific Flyway. The Refuge also has regional importance as migration and rearing habitat for salmon, particularly the Nisqually River run of the federally-listed Nisqually Chinook salmon.
June 1971 -Designation: The Nisqually Delta was added to the National Park Service's Registry of Natural Landmarks in June 1971. The designation was based on its significance as one of the best examples of a nationally representative river delta and estuarine ecosystem. The Delta supports one of the five highest quality known examples of Washington and Oregon salt marshes. The 2,765-acre landmark includes public and private ownerships of land, including lands of the National Audubon Society and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Jan. 22, 1974 - Establishment of Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge
1989 - Designation of the Research Natural Area: located at the mouth of the Nisqually River, the 793-acre Nisqually Delta Research Natural Area was established with the following objectives: 1) preserve and protect the Delta as a significant natural ecosystem; 2) serve as a gene pool for the preservation of native and endangered species; and 3) provide educational and research areas for the study of scientific aspects, including successional trends. Management activities that modify, or alter natural ecological processes, including consumptive uses, are not allowed in Research Natural Areas.
Nov. 11, 2009 - Completion of the largest estuary restoration project in the Pacific Northwest. In partnership with the Nisqually Indian Tribe and Ducks Unlimited, Inc., the Brown Farm Dike (constructed around 1909) was removed and returned 762 acres of estuary back to tidal influence.
Dec. 18, 2015 - The refuge changed its name from Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge to Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge in honor of Nisqually Tribal leader, and Native American spokesman for Tribal rights, Billy Frank Jr. (Billy Frank Jr. Tell Your Story Act, PL 114-101).
The mission of the National Wildlife Refuge System is to administer a national network of lands and waters for the conservation, management and, where appropriate, restoration of the fish, wildlife and plant resources and their habitats within the United States for the benefit of present and future generations of Americans.
Everywas created for a special purpose. Some were created to protect migratory birds, others to protect threatened or endangered species or unique habitats, while others fulfill another special purpose. All activities allowed on refuges must be evaluated to make sure each activity will not conflict with the reason the refuge was founded. Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge was established with the following purposes:
- "...for use as an inviolate sanctuary, or for any other management purpose, for migratory birds" 16 U.S.C. 715d, Migratory Bird Conservation Act;
- "...for the development, advancement, management, conservation, and protection of fish and wildlife resources..." 16 U.S.C. 742f(a)(4); and
- "...for the benefit of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, in performing its activities and services. Such acceptance may be subject to the terms of any restrictive or affirmative covenant, or condition of servitude" 16 U.S.C 742f(b)(1).
The proximity of the Nisqually Delta to two major urban centers, Tacoma and Olympia, has exposed it to numerous development threats over the years, including a deep-water port facility, an aluminum mill, and landfill. Largely as a result of citizen efforts led by conservationist and teacher Margaret McKenny and the Nisqually Delta Association, these proposals were denied. In 1966 and 1967, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife purchased approximately 616 acres of delta tidelands and salt marshes to stave off development and a Nisqually River Task Force was created to assist in preserving and protecting the river and delta. In 1971, in recognition of the significance of the area as a natural estuarine and aquatic ecosystem, the U.S. Department of the Interior designated the estuarine portion of the Nisqually River delta as aand in 1972, the Task Force recommended the delta be set aside as a National Wildlife Refuge. In February 1974, in recognition of the area's unique fish and wildlife resources, the Brown Farm property and tidelands were acquired for inclusion in the National Wildlife Refuge System as Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge. This initial purchase included 1,285 acres of diked grasslands, freshwater marshes, and tidelands funded by the Migratory Bird Conservation Commission under the authority of the Migratory Bird Conservation Act. Three other funding sources include appropriations authorized by the Wetlands Loan Act, import duties collected on arms and ammunition, and receipts from the sale of Refuge admission permits. On December 18, 2015, the refuge was renamed to honor Billy Frank Jr., a Nisqually Tribal leader who (Public Law 114-101).
Other Facilities in this Complex
Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge Complex is comprised of three refuges in western Washington.
Grays Harbor National Wildlife Refuge
Located in Hoquiam, Washington, approximately 56 miles east of Olympia, the refuge is known for the large concentration of migratory shorebirds, especially spring months as they travel north to breeding grounds. The Grays Harbor estuary was designated a hemispheric reserve by the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve network and one of six major stopover areas between Alaska and South America. The Sandpiper Trail is open year-round and offers closer views to witness hundreds of thousands of shorebirds foraging, resting, and evading aerial predators.
Black River Unit of Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge
Located southwest of Olympia, the Unit was established to protect the Black River watershed for biological diversity, enhance, and manage unique wetland andecosystems for the benefit of anadromous salmonid production and rearing, migratory and resident birds, and other wetland-dependent wildlife.