The south Puget Sound is a natural sanctuary for wild life, from the salty coastal waters, up the great rivers, into the rolling lowlands, and finally the richly forested mountain areas. It is no wonder the Nisquallies found such a place to call home, populated with aquatic, terrestrial, and aviary fauna, it’s a historically vibrant land.
Before Western civilization branched into the Washington landscape, one of the mainstays in the ecosystem was marine life. For the native tribes, the river swelled with an abundance of food, especially the Salmon. Trout, crayfish, and perch all traveled through the pristine waterways that fed largely into the Nisqually basin. The Nisqually offered it’s own unique life in its lush estuary. Smelt, eels, sole, and skates were found in droves within these waters. Upon the salty shore clams, mussels, and cockles found their homes within the gritty sand. Further out, herrings, cod (rock and red), devilfish, and bullheads congregated. These “food fish” attracted larger marine life, from porpoises and seals, dog fish sharks, and finally to what the Indians called “Black fish”: the giant Orcas that sliced through the jutting waves.
The overflow of life in the waters of the south Puget Sound also lured a great variety of foul to the area. Canadian and snow geese, egrets, and ducks all came in massive flocks to the swampy wetlands and are still thriving today. Other majestic birds, such as the Trumpeter Swan, Whooping Crane, and Bald Eagle have struggled–and in some cases, failed–facing the indomitable fringes of an encroaching civilization.
Other avifauna populated the lowlands, from fierce predatorial hawks to wild quail and pheasant. For these, the only threats were the raccoons, coyotes, and the occasional mountain lion that came down from higher altitudes. Great herds of elk grazed along these prairies and upwards into the wooded slopes, while groups of deer played amongst the undergrowth. It was here on the edges of the lowlands that the dense, sprawling forests of evergreen trees overtook the gentle landscape.
Yet, the great pines and firs were the perfect habitat for hundreds of insects and small animals. Douglas squirrels and Deer mice scurried about as the woodchuck searched for insects. Meanwhile, Black bears and Cougars stalked their prey in these deep, secluded forests, and Mountain beavers built homes in the chilly, refreshing rivers that emerged from glacier run-offs.
For those who first lived here, each of these areas was special and represented a crucial, important part of daily life. The Nisquallies needed all of these sources to survive through the different seasons. Fur traders and early white settlers also built their lives almost entirely around the local fauna, allowing for the development of later towns and communities to arise.
Unfortunately, dams, logging, and indiscriminate hunting well into the twentieth century have forced a reduction of the wildlife to only a fraction of what it once was. It is imperative that South Puget Sound’s natural history and animals will be preserved for generations to come, and this special part of our history will always speak of the wonders that attracted people here since the beginning of time.
By Allen Percefull