OLYMPIA, Wa., – Diked and dammed for more than 100 years, the tide is returning to the Nisqually estuary. Conservation partners gathered today at the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) to celebrate the largest estuary restoration in the Pacific Northwest. After spending 12 years and almost $10 million, experts have reconnected some 762 acres of estuary with the tides of Puget Sound.
“Being involved in a project of this scale has been a once-in-a-lifetime project for all of us, and the benefits of this work will extend far beyond our lifetimes. This estuary will be enjoyed by generations of people, and fish and wildlife species will prosper here for many years to come,” said Tom Dwyer, Conservation Director for Ducks Unlimited’s Pacific Northwest Field Office.
Today’s event featured a ribbon-cutting ceremony to open a portion of the new Nisqually Estuary Trail for public viewing of the restoring estuary. This one-half-mile trail will be part of a longer estuary trail, which will include a boardwalk to be built directly in the estuary in 2010. This will allow visitors to experience the wonders of a restoring estuary first-hand.
Congressman Norm Dicks who attended the ceremony, said, “Restoring fish passage in the Nisqually watershed is the latest development toward improving water conditions in this part of the Puget Sound. We’re showing we can recover this area and I’m proud to be playing a role in that recovery.”
Restoring the estuary was no small feat. Construction workers managed by DU spent 18,000 man-hours on the project, which included moving more than 500,000 cubic yards of dirt and 6,000 cubic yards of riprap. The dirt alone could fill a football field 300 feet high. The riprap could gravel 9 miles of a one-lane road. All this was done to allow more than 500 million gallons of water to flow in on a single high tide, creating a magnificent estuary teeming with wildlife.
“The project is an important step in the recovery of Puget Sound, and it is estimated that it will increase salt marsh habitat in South Puget Sound by 50 percent,” said Jean Takekawa, Refuge Manager. “Combined with the 140 acres previously restored by the Nisqually Indian Tribe, more than 900 acres of the Nisqually estuary have been restored.”
Puget Sound is the most important wintering and migration area for dabbling and diving ducks in the Pacific Northwest. As for fish, estuary restoration is identified as the top priority to recover federally threatened Chinook salmon in the Nisqually watershed. Population model estimates suggest that this project will double the number of Chinook salmon in the Nisqually basin.
This project was a partnership between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Ducks Unlimited and the Nisqually Indian Tribe. Other major funding partners included the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, U. S. Environmental Protection Agency, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife , Washinton State Salmon Funding Recovery Board and private donors.
Ducks Unlimited is the world’s largest non-profit organization dedicated to conserving North America’s continually disappearing waterfowl habitats. Established in 1937, Ducks Unlimited has conserved nearly 13 million acres thanks to contributions from more than a million supporters across the continent. Guided by science and dedicated to program efficiency, DU works toward the vision of wetlands sufficient to fill the skies with waterfowl today, tomorrow, and forever.