Plan Would Turn Farmland Back to Marshes and Mudflats for Salmon Runs at Washington Wildlife Refuge
NISQUALLY NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE, Washington A 15-year plan would restore salt marshes and mudflats for migrating salmon at the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge, more than 100 years after the farmland was drained and diked.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is expected to approve the $30 million plan to take down most of a system of dikes that separates the refuge from the salty waters of Puget Sound, reviving nearly 700 acres of what used to be an estuary.
A smaller dike would be built to protect the refuge headquarters, a visitor center and more than 200 acres of freshwater wetland.
Created 30 years ago, the 2,925-acre sanctuary surrounds the mouth of the Nisqually River, about 20 miles southwest of Tacoma. Best known as a haven for migratory birds, the refuge hosted 140,000 visitors last year.
More than 275 kinds of birds populate the area periodically, including song birds, shorebirds, waterfowl, bald eagles, peregrine falcons, herons and osprey.
Over the past 150 years, diking and urban development have destroyed 80 percent of Puget Sound's estuaries, coastal areas where salt and fresh water mix and nourish marine life. Biologists believe the habitat loss has contributed to declines in populations of salmon and other fish and wildlife.
Besides tearing down dikes, the 15-year plan envisions doubling the size of the refuge and extending its boundary to include agricultural lands.
Even if the plan is approved, expanding the refuge isn't likely to happen quickly; the biggest hurdle will be getting Congress to appropriate an estimated $30 million.
The government would also have to buy property, and only from willing sellers.
Jeff Schilter, who farms about 170 acres that's on the list of property the government is interested in buying, doesn't like the idea.
"I don't think it will benefit or make real good use of taxpayer dollars," Schilter said.