As early as 1974, state and federal working groups were trying to identify areas in Washington eligible for National Estuarine Research Reserve status under the 1972 Coastal Zone Management Act. Approximately 40 areas were eventually listed as potential sites. Using criteria based on federal guidelines resulted in a list of 10 top candidates. Several sites had difficult management or acquisition issues and were dropped from the list. Padilla Bay was eventually selected due to its unique physical and biological qualities — including miles of intertidal mud flats and thousands of acres of eelgrass.
In 1979, the governor's Padilla Bay Sanctuary Steering Committee and Technical Advisory Subcommittee established the original proposed boundary for the Padilla Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve. The total area within the proposed boundary was approximately 13,535 acres, including tidelands and uplands. It includes Hat Island, which was added to the overall Reserve area in 1998.
Due to historic sale and subdivision of tidelands, ownership of Padilla Bay was held in private hands and highly fragmented — with 1,789 separate parcels. Through the years, the Reserve has purchased properties from willing sellers within the proposed boundary area.
As of 2003, the Reserve owned more than 11,000 acres of tidelands and marshlands within the proposed boundary. Ecology is responsible for administering and managing the Reserve.
The Breazeales fight to save Padilla Bay
When Edna retired in 1957 from teaching high school English in Seattle, she moved back to the dairy farm her brothers were working. Plans were underway to develop the bay into an industrial park. To the Breazeales and others this was an unacceptable threat to the land and water they loved. Edna helped organize a grassroots resistance, lobbying the legislature and getting signatures.
Their efforts succeeded and the mud flats of Padilla Bay remain undeveloped today.