Nisqually Watershed Services Demonstration Project
Voluntary incentives to conserve forest lands and protect drinking water and salmon habitat
The Nisqually Watershed encompasses all lands which drain to the Nisqually River, and includes a broad range of land uses and jurisdictions – rural communities, national and state parks and forests, public and private timberlands, municipal hydropower projects, farmlands, Mount Rainier, the Nisqually Indian Reservation, Joint Military Base Lewis-McChord and the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge.
Flowing 78 miles from its source at the Nisqually Glacier on Mount Rainier to its delta at the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge, the Nisqually is native habitat to songbirds, waterfowl, migratory birds, anadromous fish, plant communities, and many threatened and endangered species.
For over two decades the Wildlife Refuge, Tribe, Nisqually Land Trust, Lewis-McChord, Tacoma Public Utilities, and Mount Rainier National Park have worked to conserve, restore and protect thousands of acres of wildlife habitat and ecosystems in the Nisqually watershed.
Currently, the Nisqually River Council, Nisqually Land Trust, and Northwest Natural Resource Group are exploring a payment program for watershed-based ecosystem services that links private-forest landowner actions with improvements to water quality and quantity within the watershed. This project is an extension of ongoing Nisqually watershed protection, as well as a cooperative effort with the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to explore the creation of ecosystem service payment mechanisms and other related incentives. This work is intended to help improve the health of forest ecosystems on private lands, and to provide new sources of income to forest landowners—to keep forests from being degraded or lost to non-forest uses.
The pilot team received a grant from the state Department of Commerce to:
recruit potential buyersdevelop and review a watershed-based payment for ecosystem services protocolsecure a demonstration transaction between at least one buyer and one seller that brings additional environmental benefitquantify those benefits for beneficiaries, and provide a model that can be scaled up around Puget Sound
The Nisqually team is exploring sources of funding for the purchase of watershed services (by buyers) and quantifiable actions which landowners (as sellers) can take to improve water quality and quantity. The team is initiating discussion with entities with an interest in opportunities to secure drinking water supply, as well as groups with an interest in addressing salmon stream habitat impairments.
The City of Olympia water utility has expressed interest in the role of potential buyer. In collaboration with the project team, they have established prioritized parcels for potential transactions involving forested lands upstream from the new McAllister Springs wellhead area. Representatives from the Nisqually Land Trust have begun contacting landowners in these prioritized zones, and the Nisqually core team has met with a broader project advisory committee to help ensure utmost effectiveness both economically and ecologically. Once likely buyers and sellers are identified, DNR intends to use grant funding to develop reliable metrics for desired watershed services and economic feasibility information for the buyers.
While much has been accomplished since the April 2012 start date, the project team is in the initial phase of project preparation. The next few months will be focused on translating their growing momentum towards developing actual transactions.