National Wildlife Refuge System

Dungeness Refuge Centennial



January 12, 2015 - One hundred years ago this month, President Woodrow Wilson established the Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge, WA, to preserve breeding ground for native birds. Today the graceful arch of one of the world’s longest natural sand spits continues to provide feeding areas for migrating shorebirds in spring and fall, calm waters for wintering waterfowl, an isolated beach for harbor seal pups and eelgrass beds for salmon and herring.

 

swan days
Visitors to Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge, WA, can walk a half-mile forest trail to enter the refuge or the entire four-mile length of the spit to the 1857 lighthouse.
Credit: USFWS

The 772-acre refuge includes barrier beach, salt marsh and forest, and sits on  bluffs with the Strait of Juan de Fuca on the north and salt marsh to the south.  As the bluffs erode, sediment is carried to the end of the spit, which is growing about 15 feet longer each year. “The biggest thing we can do is protect the natural erosion of those sandy bluffs to the west of us,” explains refuge manager Jennifer Brown Scott, “to keep the spit from eroding away. We won’t hard-armor the spit with rock walls to prevent erosion. We want it to be resilient.”

 

The changing source of sediment from the bluffs continually changes the nature of the beach as well. A cobblestone beach in the winter could become a sand or gravel beach in the summer. Lagoons and mudflats form in the protected recesses of the spit, where fresh water is scarce.

 

The spit has long been popular for fishing, hunting, camping, hiking and horseback riding. The refuge balances these interests with protecting wildlife and habitat. Visitors can walk a half-mile forest trail to enter the refuge or the entire four-mile length of the spit to the 1857 lighthouse. Visitors are able to climb to the top of the still-working lighthouse, which is managed by the New Dungeness Lighthouse Association.   

 

A drastic decline in numbers of black brant around 1900 prompted President Woodrow Wilson to establish
Dungeness Refuge as a breeding ground for native bird.
Credit: USFWS

Dungeness crab may be harvested from Dungeness Bay within 100 yards of the refuge in non-motorized boats May 15 – September 30 each year.  Marine mammals including orca whales, northern elephant seals and harbor seals may be seen on the strait side of the spit.  A volunteer seal team cordons off pups left on the beach by mothers while they forage for food.

 

Events to celebrate the centennial are planned almost every month through 2015, including bird walks, lighthouse presentations and a Kids’ Day on June 20. Details are here.  There will be a Centennial Birthday Celebration on January 17 from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. presented by Friends of Dungeness Refuge. Details are here.

 

The refuge offers great opportunities to see and photograph wildlife along with environmental education programs. Dungeness Refuge is now headquarters for the Washington Maritime National Wildlife Refuge Complex, which includes Protection Island, San Juan Islands , Copalis, Quillayute Needles and Flattery Rocks Refuges.

 

Dungeness Refuge Recreation Map


Dungeness
As bluffs erode, sediment is carried to the end of the Dungeness Spit,
which is growing about 15 feet longer each year.
Credit: USFWS

Last updated: January 12, 2015