Indian tribe to share refuge with feds

  At a time when Indian tribes are making headlines for taking control of their ancestral lands, the Nisqually Tribe plans to share some of its land with the federal government (HCN, 3/7/05: Tribe close to sharing federal bison refuge).

In 1996, the tribe worked out a deal to buy a 310-acre inholding in Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge from its owner, who was reluctant to sell to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The refuge sits on the Nisqually River Delta in southern Puget Sound.

Nisqually tribal natural resources director David Troutt says "the tribe wasn’t cash rich," so it asked Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Wash., for help. After the tribe agreed to share its new land with the refuge for 25 years, Dicks signed on, and Congress ponied up a third of the $2.4 million purchase price. If, after 25 years, the tribe decides not to renew the sharing agreement, it will manage the land as a refuge in perpetuity.

Under the agreement, which was signed Feb. 23, the tribe and the agency will work together to restore wetlands for chinook salmon, Pacific loons, long-toed salamanders and other wildlife. They will also carve a hiking trail through the refuge and tribal land.

For its part, the Fish and Wildlife Service will manage visitor services such as restrooms and parking lots. And the tribe will get unrestricted access to the Nisqually Delta to restore estuaries where threatened chinook salmon feed.

Troutt says the partnership will "forward the bigger agenda of salmon recovery and public access."