Cities and counties must protect habitat along Puget Sound shorelines for salmon and other fish, according to a decision issued by the Central Puget Sound Growth Management Hearings Board. The decision came in response to an appeal of the Pierce County Critical Areas Ordinance (CAO) filed by People For Puget Sound and the Citizens for a Healthy Bay last fall.
Earthjustice filed the appeal on behalf of the conservation groups, calling for revisions to the ordinance to protect marine shorelines. As currently written, the ordinance designates protections for eel grass beds, kelp forests, and other offshore habitats but contains no protections for marine shorelines themselves.
“Now we have the opportunity to protect our shorelines,” said Stan Cummings, executive director of Citizens for a Healthy Bay. “To protect our quality of life and the enormous investment this community has made in cleaning up Commencement Bay, we can now work together with the county on an ordinance that protects marine shorelines and beaches that we all treasure.”
Shorelines are critical to the health of Puget Sound, and People For Puget Sound has set a goal to protect and restore 2,000 miles of shoreline over the next ten years. The shorelines and intertidal zones provide habitat for clams oysters, crabs, and many other creatures, including spawning habitat for herring and other small fish that salmon and other large fish feed on. Orca whales feed on the salmon, and the fact that both have been listed under the Endangered Species Act demonstrates that the entire Puget Sound ecosystem is in trouble.
People For Puget Sound and Citizens for a Healthy Bay decided to appeal Pierce County’s CAO after a last minute change in the ordinance removed buffer protections for marine shorelines. The conservation groups successfully argued that the best available science clearly demonstrates juvenile salmon use Puget Sound beach habitats for feeding and resting on their way out to sea. The science also shows these habitats can only be preserved through buffers that retain natural vegetation providing shade as well as insects and other food sources for baby salmon.
“This decision shows Washington is serious about protecting Puget Sound and the quality of life we enjoy here,” said Kathy Fletcher, executive director of People For Puget Sound. “Local governments have a critical role to play, and the Hearings Board has wisely given us a second chance to save these critically important habitats.”
In response to public concern that unplanned growth was negatively affecting the region’s quality of life, the Washington State legislature enacted the Growth Management Act in 1991. One of the act’s key requirements is that counties and cities enact critical areas ordinances to identify and protect the natural environment’s most important areas, such as wetlands, creeks, rivers, lakes, marine waters, landslide-prone areas, areas that recharge drinking water supplies, and flood zones. Protecting these resources is essential to keeping drinking water clean, lakes, rivers and the Sound swimmable, homes safe from floods, erosion, and landslides, fisheries healthy, and wildlife thriving for future generations to enjoy.