Shared Strategy for Puget Sound
About Shared Strategy
What's Happening in Your Area?
Salmon Recovery Plan
Stories of Progress


Meet the Salmon

The Nisqually supports threatened fall Chinook salmon, late-timed chum, pink and coho salmon, coastal cutthroat trout, winter steelhead and bull trout.

Chum Salmon
Bull Trout
Salmon images courtesy of King County. Steelhead image courtesy of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration/Department of Commerce.
How Chinook Use the Waterways

As in other watersheds, Chinook because of their large size (they are also called Kings after all), rely mainly on the wider and deeper mainstem Nisqually river for spawning. Mainstem tributaries and the lower reaches of smaller tributaries are also used and are important so that Chinook, as part of the species’ survival strategy, have several alternatives of places to spawn and rear.


Salmon and the Nisqually Watershed



For more information about salmon recovery planning in this watershed, click here.

Click here to read this watershed's feedback summary.


Key Facts

Land use and ownership patterns in the upper watershed is 78% forestry and recreation, 18% national park lands, 2% agriculture and 2% urban. In the lower watershed 22% forestry, 18% forest/prairie (military-owned), 4% agriculture, 49% rural/residential, 3% residential, 2% urban.

Located in Thurston, Pierce and Lewis counties, cities in the watershed include Eatonville, Roy and Yelm.

The planning area for the watershed under the state Watershed Management Act is Watershed Resource Inventory Area (WRIA) 11.


On a clear day the banks of the Nisqually River near the shore of Southern Puget Sound offer a stunning view of the river’s birth waters more than 70 miles away. The river begins at the Nisqually Glacier on the southwest flank of Mt. Rainier, the largest and best-known of 13 volcanoes spanning the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and Washington. The river carves a path through rugged Mt. Rainier National Park, forest and prairies lands before reaching rural lowlands and a broad delta punctuated by the 3000-acre Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge.

The Nisqually watershed supports one threatened Chinook population and numerous other species of salmon, including a unique late-timed population of chum. The Nisqually is nationally-recognized for years of success in protecting salmon and watershed health. The Nisqually Tribe has pioneered agreements among local, state and Tribal governments, area businesses and land owners to sustain the natural bounty of the river and the local economy.

Much of the credit for successful collaboration is given to Billy Frank, Jr., a beloved tribal leader. People who started out questioning salmon conservation efforts say that Billy Frank Jr. was a calming influence because he kept saying that he wanted solutions that allowed farming, forestry and fish to thrive.

In a Trust for Public Land study released in 2001, the Nisqually river basin was listed among the ten most important rivers in Puget Sound for salmon recovery. This is in part due to the fact that the lower portion of the river is considered among the best remaining intact salmon habitat. Between river miles (RM) 4.5 and 12.7, the river meanders freely across the valley floor; large woody debris is present in large amounts, and there is a healthy riparian zone. The Nisqually River also has the largest undeveloped delta in Puget Sound.

Major Policy or Actions Needed to Recover Salmon

Building on a Record of Successful Habitat Protection and Restoration
Protecting existing conditions is a high priority for salmon recovery planners in the Nisqually river basin. The Nisqually Recovery Team set a goal to protect 90% of 84 miles of mainstem core habitat. 68% is already in protected status. The remaining 22% will be reached by building on the record of successful agreements among diverse stakeholders. Current collaborative land acquisition efforts by the Nisqually Recovery Team involve the Nisqually Basin Land Trust, Cities of Centralia and Tacoma and Fort Lewis.

Focus on Estuary Complements Freshwater Strategies
Key actions to protect and restore estuary habitat have been identified as part of a comprehensive plan to restore robust estuary functions. Actions such as the return of Braget family farm lands to tide flat are the result of many years of trust building and collaboration among the Nisqually Tribe, salmon recovery advocates and agricultural interests. Looking ahead, planning goals include returning both Tribal-owned estuary lands and estuary portions of the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge to a healthy functioning condition. The plan also calls for a study of the impact of Interstate 5 and ways to mitigate that impact.

Hatchery and Harvest Management Practices Geared to Aid Recovery
The Nisqually Chinook Recovery Team’s action plan includes harvest and hatchery management measures. To ensure a sustainable harvest that also meets harvest goals for treaty and non-treaty fisheries, the goal is to allow enough Chinook to escape harvest that 1,100 Chinook will spawn naturally in the river. Additionally, guidelines have been developed for operating hatcheries to minimize negative impacts of hatchery fish on natural spawners.


We’re Making Progress—Some Accomplishments

Key Land Acquisition
The Nisqually Tribe acquired 410 acres of the Braget family farm, most in the lowlands and estuary of the Nisqually will result in restoration of all diked habitat on the farm. More than 30 acres of the farm were restored as tidal habitat when a dike was breached in November 2002.

Estuary Restoration
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed restoring 700 acres of estuary in the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge to a naturally functioning condition. The proposal is part of the agency’s preferred option in a draft management plan for the refuge which could be adopted as early as 2005.

Organizations Involved

  • Lewis County
  • Pierce County
  • Thurston County
  • WA Dept. of Fish & Wildlife
  • WA Parks & Rec Commission
  • WA Dept. of Natural Resources
  • Nisqually Tribe
  • Citizen's Advisory Committee Rep
  • WA Dept. of Ecology
  • WA Conservation Commission
  • UW Pack Forest
  • US Army at Fort Lewis
  • Nisqually Natl Wildlife Refuge
  • Mt. Rainier National Park
  • Tacoma Public Utilities
  • Municipalities Joint Rep - Eatonville, Roy, Yelm
  • Gifford Pinchot Natl Forest
  • Citizen's Advisory Committee Reps


Back to Top | Back to Watershed Profiles


Shared Strategy for Puget Sound | 1411 4th Avenue, Suite 1015 | Seattle, WA 98101 | 206.447.3336