Protection Island National Wildlife Refuge

Aerial view of Protection Island National Wildlife Refuge

Protection Island National Wildlife Refuge is a 364-acre island located in the Strait of Juan de Fuca near the mouth of Discovery Bay. The island is covered with low brush and grass with a small timbered area. On two ends of the island there are low sand spits and significant sections of the coastline in between offer the kind of high bluffs many seabirds like to nest in.

Protection Island was once in the crosshairs of a major land developer and almost became a residential subdivision. Two women, Eleanor Stopps and Zella Schultz, worked for years to stop that. A month after Zella died in 1974, The Nature Conservancy bought out the developer's 48 acres and sold the land to the Washington State Game Department who turned the property into Washington's first non-game sanctuary.

A nesting Rhinoceros auklet
A Rhinoceros auklet

Eight years later, after much pressure from a large and diverse constituency, President Ronald Reagan signed the only legislation passed during his term in office that protected any land or any wildlife from the depredations of real estate developers and all other industries.

Protection Island offers about 70% of the nesting seabird population in Puget Sound and the Strait of Juan de Fuca a home. Included in that 70% is one of the largest nesting colonies (estimated to be 17,000 pairs) of the rhinocerous auklet in the world and the largest nesting colony of glaucous-winged gulls in the state of Washington. Also included is one of the last two remaining nesting colonies of the tufted puffin in the Puget Sound area.

A US Fish and Wildlife Service sign

Not to be outdone, about 1,000 harbor seals also rely on the refuge for resting and raising their pups. Bald eagles come to spend their winters on the island, too. Because of all that, Protection Island is closed to the public to protect the nesting birds and harbor seals. Visitors are required to stay at east 200 yards offshore so as not to flush adult birds off their nests.

Copalis National Wildlife Refuge, Quillayute Needles National Wildlife Refuge, Flattery Rocks National Wildlife Refuge, San Juan Islands National Wildlife Refuge, Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge and Protection Island National Wildlife Refuge are administered as the Washington Maritime National Wildlife Refuge Complex.

Photos courtesy of the US Fish & Wildlife Service