Restoration strategies for Puget Sound

In the course of building homes, businesses, roads, and infrastructure, the lands and waters of Puget Sound have been drastically modified. Levees, dams, and toxic deposits are obvious and have site-specific impacts. But less obvious are the cumulative changes from human land use activities, such as bulkheads, docks, permanent removal of native vegetation, and loss of native habitat in marine and upland areas. These activities have damaged the underlying processes that form beaches, keep rivers, estuaries, and forests healthy, and support species. Historically, the actions that led to ecosystem degradation were intended to improve the quality of life for Puget Sound residents, but with closed shellfish beds, flooding, species decline, and other impacts it is clear that ecosystem rebuilding efforts are needed.

Protecting the habitats and functions that are left is critical, but will not be enough to restore the health of the ecosystem. To achieve the goals of the Action Agenda, the condition of Puget Sound must be improved from its present state. Restoration strategies once focused on what was called the “low hanging fruit,” referring to specific projects on individual sites. These projects were ready to go, relatively easy to fund, construct, and report on, but they do not necessarily focus on restoring key ecosystem processes. Scientists now emphasize the importance of restoration strategies that consider project sequence, function, and scale. Will the restoration work be obliterated by something that is occurring upstream or the effects of climate change? Will it connect habitat patches into a functional network or just fix an isolated site? And will restoration work address urgent, large-scale problems such as estuary loss at the mouths of our rivers, or the nutrient loading that depletes oxygen in the waters of Hood Canal or South Sound? Finally, will restoration add up to improvement in the quality of life for people by reducing flooding, providing clean water, making shellfish edible, and producing fish and wildlife in the creeks, woodlands, beaches, and marshes throughout Puget Sound?

A restoration strategy for Puget Sound has three major elements. First is the need to undertake ecosystem rebuilding at a large scale in a variety of habitats throughout Puget Sound. In the same way that protection actions must set priorities for the remaining valuable habitat in Puget Sound, restoration activities must focus on improving underlying functions of the ecosystem, and work efficiently on projects that are likely to have large-scale and long-lasting returns. Second, restoration work has significant potential to help revitalize human communities by removing toxic waste, rebuilding shorelines, clearing the way to restore vibrant waterfronts, and providing near-term engineering and construction jobs. Finally, we must ensure that stewardship is implemented to break the cycle of degrade-restore-degrade that carries substantial economic costs and risk to human health and well-being.

The Action Agenda identifies a comprehensive restoration strategy for Puget Sound ecosystems that reflects three primary objectives:

B.1 Implement and maintain priority ecosystems restoration projects for marine, marine nearshore, estuary, freshwater, riparian, and upland areas.

The continued implementation of ecosystem restoration projects and plans is a cornerstone of the restoration strategy and species recovery for Puget Sound. For example, salmon recovery plans provide a broad suite of high priority restoration projects that have been scientifically reviewed and have substantial community support. Those projects that restore ecosystem processes will result in expanded broader ecosystem benefits, such as improved habitat and water quality, increased scenic values, and improvements to salmon and other species. The restoration projects are highly varied and are tailored to local watershed conditions. Land purchase may also be necessary to facilitate specific restoration projects. Native species should be used in restoration efforts.

Examples of ecosystem restoration projects include, but are not limited to:

  • Uplands: Reforestation of waterways, removal of fish passage barriers, rehabilitation of poorly maintained or no-longer-needed logging roads; planting forest cover;
  • Freshwater riparian: Connection of rivers and floodplains, dike and levee setback, revegetation along streams and rivers, placement of large woody debris, wetland restoration;
  • Estuary: Levee setback, tidegate improvements;
  • Marine nearshore: Removal of or softening shoreline armoring;
  • Marine water: Removal of derelict fishing gear.

B.2 Revitalize waterfront communities while enhancing marine and freshwater shoreline ecosystem processes.

The transition from a resource-based economy has left some Puget Sound communities with degraded and polluted waterfronts from old industrial activities. Many of Puget Sound’s urban centers are located on marine or freshwater shorelines, but few have been able to develop a built environment that complements their shoreline environment. Diverse use of shorelines will continue and restoration and stewardship actions can remove obstacles to waterfront redevelopment and reduce new impacts from waterfront activities.

B.3 Support and implement stewardship incentive programs to increase the ability of private landowners to undertake and maintain restoration projects that improve ecosystem processes.

Restoration actions vary in scale and take place on both public and private lands. There are currently numerous programs available in Washington that can have positive outcomes for the environment with appropriate incentives, technical assistance, and participation. Examples include: direct financial incentives (grants, subsidized loans, cost-shares); indirect financial incentives (property tax relief); technical assistance (referrals, trainings, design assistance); recognition/certification for products or operations; and conservation leasing.

Puget Sound Action Agenda 2009

About the Author: 
The Puget Sound Partnership is a state-supported effort of citizens, governments, tribes, scientists and businesses working together to restore and protect Puget Sound. The Partnership's legislatively mandated Action Agenda prioritizes cleanup and improvement projects and coordinates federal, state, local, tribal and private resources.