Leque Island, located west of Stanwood between Port Susan and Skagit bays, was once entirely tidal marsh. In the late 1800s, early settlers built dikes around the perimeter of the island to convert the area to farmland and homesteads. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) began acquiring properties on Leque Island in 1974, and now owns the entire island. The Leque Island Unit is part of the Skagit Wildlife Area.
In 2013, WDFW partnered with Ducks Unlimited (DU) to develop options to reconsider how to manage the site. To help with decision making, WDFW engaged local stakeholders and formed a committee of outdoor recreationists, local jurisdictions, tribal representatives, and farmers to guide the process. With support from the committee, WDFW decided to remove the dikes and restore the entire area to tidal marsh habitat.
During the summer of 2019, WDFW, DU, and Strider Construction completed the project. The team removed over 2.4 miles of levee, excavated over 5 miles of new tidal channels, and built a berm that protects the City of Stanwood from waves while also supporting a walking trail.
Removing the dikes restored 250 acres of tidal marsh habitat in the Stillaguamish River watershed where 85% of historic tidal marsh has been displaced. Estuaries are important for juvenile Chinook salmon as they transition from fresh to salt water, as well as shorebirds, waterfowl, and a host of other species in the area. Because Puget Sound's Southern Resident killer whales rely on Chinook salmon for food, the project is also closely aligned with orca recovery efforts.
In addition to habitat restoration benefits, the wave protection berm makes the City of Stanwood more resilient to storm damage. Other features included in the site design such as the walking trail, parking lots, and paddle boat launch on Davis Slough allow people to continue enjoying the site.
Since completing construction, WDFW and partners are monitoring the restoration site to evaluate the outcomes. In 2021, a fish monitoring crew from Skagit River System Cooperative caught 15 different fish species in the restoration area including Chinook, chum, and coho salmon as well as bull trout. Bird scientists from Ecostudies Institute have found a higher species diversity and quantity of birds using the site after restoration compared with before. Vegetation monitoring has shown a wide variety of native marsh plants already taking root in the restoration area.
A combination of state and federal grants funded the project including: Puget Sound Acquisition and Restoration Program, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, WDFW's Estuary and Salmon Restoration Program, Washington Recreation and Conservation Office, Washington Salmon Recovery Funding Board, Ducks Unlimited, The Nature Conservancy, Floodplains by Design, and Washington Department of Ecology.
- Estuary Restoration at Leque Island | by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife | Medium
- Near Stanwood, thousands of fish discover a restored estuary | HeraldNet.com
For more information about the Leque Island Restoration Project, please contact Project Manager Loren Brokaw at Loren.Brokaw@dfw.wa.gov or 425-775-1311, ext. 105.