For more information on habitat issues, please contact the
WDFW Habitat Program.
Phone: 360-902-2534

For more information on WDFW managed lands including wildlife areas, please contact the
WDFW Wildlife Program.
Phone: 360-902-2515


AHG Guidelines Overview

The overwhelming majority of Washington’s fish and wildlife species depend on aquatic and riparian ecosystems for all or part of their life cycle. This rich and diverse fauna, and the flora on which they depend, are irreplaceable elements of Washington’s natural heritage and are the basis for much of the state’s cultural heritage, economy, and quality of life. Activities associated with our enjoyment and development of land surrounding these aquatic habitats have destroyed, degraded, and fragmented many of these marine, freshwater, and riparian ecosystems throughout Washington State. Over time, these adverse impacts have resulted in the federal listing of many marine, freshwater, and riparian animal species as “Endangered” or “Threatened” under the federal Endangered Species Act, and the state's wildlife protection legislation.

Governor Gary Locke and Washington State agencies adopted a statewide strategy to recover salmon in 1999. At the heart of the strategy to address habitat is a bottom-up approach of involving landowners and citizens by providing incentives and technical assistance in salmon protection/recovery initiatives. In the 1999-2001 biennium, Washington State distributed nearly $50,000,000 to more than 300 salmon protection/recovery projects sponsored by local governments, watershed groups, County Conservation Districts, Regional Fisheries Enhancement Groups, volunteer groups, private citizens, and others. There is an urgent need for increased technical guidance to ensure that these local efforts are strategic, address the source of a problem and not just a symptom, are the best use of limited funds, and are based on best available science that can be consistently and effectively applied across the landscape.

The Aquatic Habitat Guidelines program is designed to help provide this technical assistance. In 1999, the Washington State Departments of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), Ecology (Ecology), and Transportation (WSDOT) were charged to develop these Aquatic Habitat Guidelines employing an integrated approach to marine, freshwater, and riparian habitat protection and restoration. In 2001, the United States Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE) and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) became participating agencies in the program. Aquatic Habitat Guidelines is a technical assistance program that helps people do the right thing for aquatic natural resources. It is not a program that relies on regulation to protect public resources. Aquatic Habitat Guidelines do not replace existing regulatory requirements, though they are designed in part to provide technical guidance supporting regulatory streamlining. Current agency policies, rules, and regulations may not support all of the recommendations made within these guidelines. If this is the case, the current policies, rules, and regulations supersede the recommendations in the guidelines.

The overarching goal of the program is the development of technical assistance for proper management of activities affecting Washington’s marine, freshwater, and riparian ecosystems to assist in the protection and restoration of fully functioning aquatic and riparian habitat. Species generally do not decline because of conscious, deliberate actions by people to do them harm. Instead, they become endangered or threatened through poor planning, and lack of understanding about alternatives that could avoid or minimize ecological impacts. The Aquatic Habitat Guidelines will help concerned and willing citizens to do the right things for aquatic and riparian ecosystems in their neighborhoods and watersheds.

Objectives of the Aquatic Habitat Guidelines program include:

  • Make the expertise of professional resource managers available to a wide variety of organizations and citizens who are seeking assistance in habitat protection and restoration activities.
  • Streamline local, state, and federal regulatory review of activities involving aquatic environments by providing guidelines based on best available science.
  • Provide a scientific basis for any future changes to current local policies or activities associated with aquatic resource in the state.
  • Maintain ongoing reviews and updates to the Aquatic Habitat Guidelines documents to reflect experience and emerging science and technical practice.

Benefits of the Aquatic Habitat Guidelines program include:

  • Addresses habitat requirements and guides recovery projects for marine, freshwater, and riparian animal species listed under the federal Endangered Species Act.
  • Facilitates consistent application of good science and technical practice for project designs, construction, and operations affecting aquatic systems.
  • Increases the success rate and enhances the worthwhile expenditure of public funds on protection and recovery projects.
  • Streamlines and reduces costs for environmental review and permitting for activities that affect marine, freshwater, and riparian ecosystems.
  • Provides a single set of benchmarks for evaluating and prioritizing projects affecting aquatic and riparian habitats.

The guidelines documents produced under the Aquatic Habitat Guidelines program will be issued in a series of manuals written by professional resource engineers and managers addressing many aspects of aquatic and riparian habitat protection and restoration. The target audiences range from local, state, and federal agencies to elected officials, engineering consultants and designers, volunteer restoration groups, and landowners. The guidelines will facilitate the consistent application of good science and practices for project designs, construction, and operations affecting aquatic systems. Each volume is to be based on a survey of current best science and technical practice surveyed in topical state-of-the-knowledge white papers or a thorough literature review. These have been written by recognized experts and built on a set of guiding principles developed by professional resource managers, engineers, and other practioners.

The guidelines will include background science and literature, policy issues, site and vicinity environmental assessment procedures, project design processes, project design standards, project design details, and case studies that highlight site-specific issues and will address ecosystem-based strategies for aquatic and riparian habitat restoration and protection. The guidelines will provide nuts and bolts "how to" information for volunteers, planners, and designers of habitat restoration projects as well as for designers, builders, and operators of facilities and structures that effect marine, freshwater, and riparian habitats. It is intended that the guidelines will support salmon and other aquatic habitat restoration projects, provide additional consistency in permitting of habitat restoration projects and other in-stream projects across the state, and provide a scientific basis for any future changes to current policies or regulations governing aquatic resource and habitat management in the state.

The Aquatic Habitat Guidelines program Steering Committee Agencies anticipate utilizing the program in the following ways. WDFW is using the white papers and guiding principles produced as part of the Aquatic Habitat Guidelines program to ensure programmatic and regulatory consistency and as a source for the best available science for the development of agency policies and regulations. At WDFW, the Aquatic Habitat Guidelines will serve as a tool to help local watershed groups, lead entities, and agency biologists plan and implement salmon recovery projects based on good science. In addition, the Aquatic Habitat Guidelines will serve as best available science and technical guidance in the review of Hydraulic Project Approval applications for projects requiring WDFW authorization. At the Department of Ecology the guidelines will become an integral part of implementing the Shoreline Management Act through incorporation into the Shoreline Management Guidebook. Additionally, all Aquatic Habitat Guidelines are incorporated into the state's Water Quality Management Plan to control non-point source pollution. At the Department of Transportation, the guidelines will help design and implement mitigation for Streambank impacts related to construction and maintenance projects. In addition, the guidelines will promote and enhance salmon and watershed recovery work as a part of transportation facility design statewide. At the United States Army Corps of Engineers, the guidelines will be used in the evaluation of proposed activities. In addition, they will become central criterion for activities to be authorized in forthcoming Programmatic Consultations under the Endangered Species Act.

  • Guidelines for Salmonid Habitat Protection and Restoration - This paper was presented at the Society of Wetland Scientists, Pacific Northwest 2000 Chapter Meeting held in Bellingham, Washington May 10-12, 2000. The paper provides an overview of the Guidelines for Salmonid Habitat Protection and Restoration program as of Spring-Summer 2000. The project has changed substantially in the intervening time period, and is now recognized as the Aquatic Habitat Guidelines program. As a result, this document provides historical information pertaining to the original intent and structure of the program, and should only be considered a general, albeit outdated, reference. (PDF format 152KB).

Draft Guideline Peer Review

To help ensure that the guidelines drafted as part of the Aquatic Habitat Guidelines program are comprehensive and contain the best available scientific information, they are reviewed in workshops that bring together regional experts, users, and regulators to discuss and critique the documents. Input from the workshops, as well as written comments, are reviewed and considered for incorporation into revisions of the guidelines documents. In addition, opportunities to participate in guidelines development through scoping, workshops, and review of draft guidance materials will be available to all interested parties. Comments may also be emailed to Comments will be reviewed and considered for incorporation into the final documents.