Originally published Wednesday, September 14, 2011 at 4:04 PM

The Nisqually Aquatic Reserve, part of protecting Puget Sound

State Commissioner of Public Lands Peter Goldmark designated the seventh aquatic reserve on Puget Sound. Oversight of the Nisqually River estuary is part of a broader strategy to protect Puget Sound.

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PLANS and progress — an elusive pairing — for cleanup of Puget Sound should look to the Nisqually River estuary for inspiration and guidance.

Years of tension and negotiations yielded to a recognition of what might be done to mutually benefit agricultural, economic-development interests, the Nisqually Indian Tribe and government jurisdictions represented in the sprawling estuarine area of South Puget Sound.

State Commissioner of Public Lands Peter Goldmark certified more progress Friday with the designation of the Nisqually Aquatic Reserve.

As the management plan notes, the site effectively expands an existing designation, the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge, to include deep-water marine areas.

Goldmark credits the nonprofit, education-oriented Nisqually Reach Nature Center as the first proponent of the reserve designation.

The Nisqually Reach Aquatic Reserve extends from the Nisqually River Delta across Nisqually Reach. It includes all state-owned aquatic lands in those areas, plus those state-owned bedlands and beaches surrounding Anderson, Ketron and Eagle islands and to the shores of McNeil Island.

Designation and preservation of the 14,826 state-owned tidelands and bedlands acres does not preclude public use or enjoyment of the area and its aquatic delights. The state is empowered to better screen and manage commercial proposals and protect a public asset.

All that marine habitat is home to a variety of threatened, endangered or listed species, including species of rockfish, forage fish, anadromous fish, marine mammals and sea birds.

This is the seventh such designation for vulnerable areas around Puget Sound, the fourth secured by Goldmark. It's an element of what the commissioner describes as a broader strategy to protect the visual, cultural, ecological and social attributes and values of the Sound.

Reclaiming the Nisqually estuary was an arduous process. The enlightened self-interest of the various parties was leavened in recent years with state money to remove dikes and return the area to its natural profile.


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