Stewardship Partners is working with various stakeholders in the Nisqually Watershed on the Nisqually Collaborative Conservation project. Encompassing the watershed from Mount Rainier to the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge, this project will conserve ecological integrity by:

  • Protecting critical river, forest and other habitat.
  • Encouraging continued agricultural and forest uses on private lands.
  • Promoting low-impact building and architectural design guidelines to guide sustainable development.
  • Developing a comprehensive watershed stewardship plan that promotes land stewardship.

To learn more about the Nisqually River watershed and Stewardship Partners’ involvement there, please check out the tabs above.

For more information contact David Burger at Stewardship Partners via email.

The Watershed

The Nisqually Watershed is one of Washington’s most functionally intact watersheds. Originating at the Nisqually Glacier of Mount Rainier, the Nisqually River winds its way through mountain forests, agricultural valleys, an estuarine delta and out to Puget Sound, where it discharges 50 percent of South Puget Sound’s fresh water. Due to responsible private stewardship and conscientious public policy decisions, the Nisqually remains one of the most pristine river basins in Puget Sound.

The Nisqually Watershed is the only watershed in the United States whose headwaters are in a national park (Mount Rainier National Park) and outlet in a national wildlife refuge (Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge). Between these protected areas, the majority of land is privately-owned, representing 56 percent of the Nisqually’s half million acres. Increasingly, much of this private land is being considered for commercial and residential development. This results in the conversion of working farmland and forestland, decline of fish and wildlife habitat, and changing character of the rural communities and landscapes that draw thousands of tourists to the watershed each year.

Through the work of Stewardship Partners and other groups, collaborative partnerships among the watershed’s stakeholders are resulting in an economically and environmentally sustainable vision to preserve the unique physical and cultural attributes of the Nisqually Watershed.

Download the Nisqually Watershed Map (PDF).

The Program

The Nisqually Watershed is one of the most pristine watersheds in Puget Sound and has been recognized across the country as a model for collaborative conservation. This program is linking private landowner stewardship with community and watershed planning efforts. We are creating a suite of incentives for landowners to adopt stewardship practices in agricultural, forestry and land development, as well as the tourist and hospitality industry.

Through this project, Stewardship Partners has been the catalyst for the creation of the following:

  • Additional human resources at the Nisqually River Council, Nisqually Land Trust and the Nisqually Indian Tribe.
  • A comprehensive GIS database for identifying fish and wildlife habitat, mapping important resources and prioritizing restoration and preservation projects.
  • A Stream Catalogue that identifies on-the-ground conditions of habitat and opportunities for landowner collaboration.
  • A stakeholder-developed set of voluntary Low Impact Development, Green Building and Architectural Design Guidelines for new construction.
  • The Nisqually Watershed Stewardship Plan, which sets specific goals for the next five years and broad goals for the next 50 years.

The Nisqually Watershed Stewardship Plan

The main product of the Nisqually Collaborative Conservation project has been the Nisqually Watershed Stewardship Plan. The mission of the plan is to encourage and support sustainability in the Nisqually Watershed in order to empower private landowners and businesses to steward their resources in perpetuity and build a model for harmonious living. To do this, the plan, a comprehensive update to the original 1987 Nisqually River Management Plan, sets forth a suite of incentives for landowners to adopt stewardship practices in agricultural, forestry and land development, as well as the tourist and hospitality industries. It includes a roadmap to the next 15 years of stewardship, and a vision for the next 50. An adaptive management procedure will be used to evaluate progress and modify ongoing activities over time.

Download the Nisqually Watershed Stewardship Plan here. (PDF)

Elements of the plan include the following:

Low-impact Development and Green Building

Low-impact development and green building techniques are increasingly being recognized as a way for growing communities to address the various environmental impacts stemming from commercial and residential development by preserving a watershed’s natural ecological functions while minimizing on-site impacts. Stewardship Partners has produced a set of “Low-Impact Development and Architectural Guidelines for the Nisqually Watershed” and is working with community partners to promote their adoption as a means to curb the environmental impacts associated with new building, while simultaneously promoting sustainable economic developments. To learn more about LID, click here to go to the LID Program page.

The LID guidelines can be downloaded here:

Sustainability Certification:

Environmental certification and labeling programs provide marketing opportunities for businesses to take advantage of the growing demand for green products by distinguishing their products or services as environmentally friendly. Stewardship Partners is working with the Nisqually Watershed Council to facilitate voluntary third-party certification of sustainable practices by independent certification programs such as the Forest Stewardship Council, Salmon-Safe and the U.S. Green Building Council. Concurrent with these existing programs, the council will develop a regional branding effort to label Nisqually-produced products with a ‘Sustainable Nisqually’ logo as a means to build consumer-to-producer connections, support the continuation of natural resource based industries, encourage sustainable practices and promote the Nisqually Watershed to consumers, tourists and others throughout the region.

Stewardship Partners launched this effort with the Salmon-Safe certification of Wilcox Farms as the first Salmon-Safe farm in the Nisqually Watershed and the largest certified farm to date in the Northwest. We have also provided a subsidy for small forest landowners to become FSC certified as part of the Northwest Certified Forestry Program.

Education and Interpretation:

Education and interpretation have been, and will continue to be, a major component of the Nisqually River Council’s efforts, aiming to foster watershed stewardship by giving people more access to the land and interpretation of its resources. The Nisqually River Education Program educates students through hands-on experience with water quality testing and habitat improvement projects. Future educational programs will also address the history, culture, ecology, and economy of the Nisqually Watershed. The Nisqually Council hopes to send every student in the watershed through a watershed-based education program and include the watershed’s history in middle and secondary school curricula. Among other goals are to develop a Mount Rainier Institute based on the model of the North Cascades Institute, to establish an educational outreach program, to encourage schools to teach the concept of sustainability, and to create a world-renowned outdoor classroom – a living lab from the glacier to the delta.

Fish and Wildlife Habitat:

Many efforts are underway to protect fish and wildlife habitat in the Nisqually Watershed. The Nisqually River Council is continuing work with regional governmental and tribal groups on the Nisqually multispecies Salmon Recovery Plan. Important habitat for migratory waterfowl is being mapped and used to develop and implement a Nisqually bird stewardship program. The council is also working to assess critical habitat for over-wintering and calving elk, and will develop a Nisqually Elk Corridor Team. Additionally, the council will implement an invasive species removal and Oak/Prairie habitat protection program.

Watershed Health Report Card:

Every three years, the council will produce a snapshot of the watershed and a measure of its health. The report will include information about current land use, with GIS data on forest, agricultural, urban and rural uses, and will examine local zoning ordinances. This study also will identify land ownership patterns and the major landowners in the watershed, including an analysis of the land that is privately owned versus publicly owned and their general differences in size, urban versus rural, and agricultural versus forested character. This report will help inform the community and stakeholders of issues in land use and watershed health they should be aware of and is an essential monitoring component.

"Stewardship Partners is one of those rare nonprofits where you make an investment in something, not just a donation."

– Dale Miller