PROTECTED AND RESTORED HABITAT
Statutory Goal: A healthy Puget Sound where freshwater, estuary, nearshore, marine, and upland habitats are protected, restored, and sustained.
While more of the indicators of the Habitat goal are near or at their recovery targets compared to other goals, habitat protection and restoration remains a priority
Four of the 10 habitat indicators with enough data came close to reaching or reached their 2020 targets. Where we have enough data, most of the indicators improved, and none declined. Most indicators for this goal measure the restoration activities by humans in different habitats. So, by improvement, we mean more habitat was gained or improved thanks to restoration. However, while protection and restoration efforts continue, loss of habitat throughout Puget Sound ecosystems also continues.
- Humans have disconnected much of the habitat in river deltas, or estuary habitat at the mouths of rivers, from full tidal flooding. River deltas gained 3,500 acres from restoration projects, but efforts still fell short of the 2020 target. The recovery community made notable gains in tidally inundated wetlands in the Nisqually and Skokomish deltas. Practitioners have restored many acres in rivers in the north like the Snohomish, Stillaguamish, and Skagit, but gains are small compared to historical levels of habitat.
- Only about one-third of Puget Sound’s major river floodplains are in good condition, meaning that they are natural lands and connected to the river. Practitioners have completed floodplain improvement projects to improve or restore 9,550 acres, but the total still ended below the 2020 target. There have been habitat gains in North Sound floodplains, but those gains are still short of historical levels.
- Efforts to restore riparian corridors continued every year through streambank revegetation, invasive species removal, and other activities to re-establish riparian functions.
- Forest loss and the conversion of ecologically important lands under high development pressure continue. However, these indicators of changes in land cover and development have improved in recent years and came in near or at their 2020 recovery target.
- Most urban growth has occurred within already urbanized areas, yet there is increasing development pressure in rural areas that threatens natural habitats.
- Shoreline armor, like bulkheads and seawalls, affects beach habitat by disrupting erosion processes. The indicator for permitted shoreline armor measures the net change in permitted shoreline armor (new minus removed). By 2020, more armor had been permitted for removal than construction, resulting in a net removal length of 739 feet. A net permitted removal of armor meets the 2020 target for this indicator. Experts think that increased awareness of the impacts of armor on shoreline functions was one factor in reaching the target. In addition, efforts to seek potential removal opportunities and to encourage the use of soft techniques across Puget Sound have helped limit new armor permits.
- Eelgrass is the only Vital Sign with an indicator—Sound-wide eelgrass area—that has a stable trend. Eelgrass health depends largely on the quality and clarity of the water, and while there are eelgrass declines in the San Juan Islands and South Puget Sound, it is reassuring that total eelgrass has been relatively stable when compared to other developed areas.
- For more details about ecosystem conditions relating to this goal, please see our Story Map on Puget Sound Info.
Climate change impacts upland and nearshore habitats
Climate change poses a high risk to most Vital Signs related to the Protected and Restored Habitat goal. This includes Floodplains, Estuaries, and Shoreline Armoring. Eelgrass and Land Cover and Development are at low risk (Siemann and Binder 2017).
- lower summer streamflows;
- higher winter peak streamflows;
- altered sediment dynamics; and
- warming streams.
- sea level rise;
- changes in freshwater flows;
- altered sediment dynamics; and
- increased water temperatures.
- altered sediment dynamics; and
- sea-level rise.
Signals from the 2020 State of Our Watersheds Report
Shoreline Armoring Continues to Threaten Salmon and Forage Fish Spawning Habitat: Of the total 2,460 miles of shoreline within the Puget Sound Region, 715 miles (or 29%) is armored. Hydraulic project permits issued between 2015 and 2018 showed a net reduction of about 1 mile of armoring and an additional 6.7 miles of shoreline armoring replacement in the Puget Sound Region. While this reduction is a positive sign, the shoreline ecological functions have been severely impacted by past shoreline armoring and more restoration work needs to be done. For example, the Puyallup watershed’s marine shoreline is 92% impacted by armoring, resulting in lost foraging opportunities and reduced residence times for juvenile salmonids which in turn result in a decreased survival rate of these runs.
Impervious Surface Continues to Increase: Excluding federal lands, impervious surface area increased to about 7% in 2016, an increase of 1.2% since 2011. By 2040, the forecast population for Puget Sound will increase an additional 1,100,000 people beyond 2016; with an associated increase to almost 8.5% impervious surface area. The Puget Sound Salmon Recovery Plan lists minimizing impervious surfaces as a key strategy for protecting habitat.
Forest Cover Loss Continues in Puget Sound Lowlands: From 2011 to 2016, an additional 243 square miles (2% net reduction) of forest cover was lost in the Puget Sound lowlands. The projected trend is to see continuing high rates of forest cover loss if protective actions are not taken. Minimizing forest cover removal will reduce the long-term impacts of forest cover loss and is a key strategy for protecting and restoring habitat within Puget Sound.
Diminished Riparian Forest Cover: Diminishing riparian forests in the lowlands of western Washington
continue to impair habitats critical to the recovery of the region’s anadromous salmon. The number of 6th-level Hydrological Unit Codes rated for properly functioning riparian forest cover shrank by 37.9% between 2011 and 2016. In 2011, National Marine Fisheries Service identified for most of Puget Sound that degraded riparian areas are a limiting factor to the recovery of Chinook salmon.
PSEMP Nearshore Restoration Summit and Synthesis
The PSEMP Nearshore Work Group and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s (WDFW) Estuary and Salmon Restoration Program (ESRP), Oregon State University, and University of Washington organized the first Nearshore Restoration Summit in March 2021. The goal was to connect restoration scientists and practitioners to synthesize nearshore science and restoration actions in Puget Sound and create a roadmap that updates restoration conceptual models and identifies key uncertainties for future research and management to address. The summit brought together about 80 speakers and over 500 registrants. The summit was particularly notable for bringing together people from a wide range of disciplines in the social and natural sciences. Proceedings will provide a synthesis of biophysical and social science research, a compilation of nearshore restoration work, updated conceptual models, and a set of social sciences principles for inclusion in the conceptual models. Proceedings will be available in fall 2021.
Kelp forests in need of conservation and monitoring
Thanks to the leadership of the Northwest Straits Commission and the Puget Sound Restoration Fund, the State Legislature provided funding to implement the Puget Sound Kelp Conservation and Recovery plan for the 2021-2023 biennium. These funds will help address top level priorities in the plan, including understanding and reducing stressors of kelp, describing kelp distribution and trends, and restoration of kelp forests. Projects will integrate Indigenous knowledge and support volunteer-based community science and new Vital Sign indicators of kelp. Projects will ultimately inform and improve management actions to reduce stressors and conserve kelp habitat.