108 years of wildlife preservation As the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service's national wildlife refuge system turns 108 Monday, now might be a good time to plan a visit one of 23 refuges in Washington.
Some, such as Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge, are just a short drive away for South Sound residents. Others are farther away, such as Columbia National Wildlife Refuge north of Othello, but are still worthy stops for families, birders, hikers, anglers, hunters and others.
Set aside for the conservation of America’s fish, wildlife and plants, the refuge system was established in 1903 when President Theodore Roosevelt designated Florida’s Pelican Island as the nation’s first bird reservation.
The system now includes 553 national wildlife refuges and 38 wetland management districts. They support wildlife that includes 700 species of birds, 200 mammals, 250 reptiles and amphibians, more than 1,000 species of fish and countless invertebrates and plants.
“The refuge system is both a national treasure and a reflection of the responsibility we share to protect habitat to meet the needs of wildlife for the continuing benefit of current and future generations,” Greg Siekaniec, chief of the National Wildlife Refuge System, said in a prepared statement.
“Across the refuges in the state of Washington alone, they provide different things to people, they offer so many different things,” said Jean Takekawa, manager of Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge. “Each refuge is located in a different place, so the habitat is different. The landscapes will vary, the wildlife will vary from place to place.
“They may not be as well known as some of our state and national parks, but they offer so much for people.”
Among the things you can do at a refuge in Washington:
• Walk the new Nisqually Estuary Boardwalk Trail at the Nisqually refuge. A 4-mile round-trip from the visitor center, the boardwalk takes visitors over the reclaim estuary.
• Camp or hike on Long Island, part of the Willapa National Wildlife Refuge near Long Beach. Accessible only by boat, the 5,460-acre island is home to red cedar trees that are more than 900 years old.
• McNary National Wildlife Refuge outside the Tri-Cities offers hiking, boating, fishing, horseback riding and hunting. The refuge protects 15,000 acres on the east bank of the Columbia River.
• The highlight of Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge is the 11-mile round-trip hike on the Dungeness Spit. Even if you don’t want to make the trek to the lighthouse at the end of the spit, the beach offers plenty of activities.
But not all refuges in the state are for recreation.
The Quillayute Needles National Wildlife Refuge is spread across 100 miles of Washington’s coast from Cape Flattery to Copalis Beach. It is home to 870 islands, rocks and reefs, all protected from human disturbance, to provide sanctuary for wildlife. There are 14 species of seabirds that nest and raise their young on the refuge. During migration the total populations of seabirds, waterfowl, and shorebirds may exceed a million birds. Sea lions, harbor seals, sea otters, and whales may also be seen around the islands.
Jeffrey P. Mayor: 253-597-8640