Landscape Planning for Washington's Wildlife: Managing for Biodiversity in Developing Areas (A Priority Habitats and Species Guidance Document)


Published: December 2009

Pages: 163

Author(s): Jeff Azerrad, John Carleton, Jennifer Davis, Timothy Quinn, Chris Sato, Michelle Tirhi, George Wilhere (WDFW), and Suzanne Tomassi (The Watershed Company)

The goal of this document is to provide information to planners and others that can be used to minimize the impacts of development to wildlife and to conserve biodiversity. Biodiversity can be defined as the range of physical (habitat) and biological (species, communities) components, the ways that species interact with the physical environment, and the processes necessary to maintain these interactions through time.


Washington State is a biologically rich area composed of habitats ranging from arid shrubsteppe, temperate rain forests, mountain peaks, and the marine environments of the Pacific Ocean and Puget Sound. The state's varied geography, climates, and ecosystems support over 640 native vertebrate wildlife species.

While we are fortunate to have these habitats and species, many areas of the state are undergoing development that affects native wildlife. Washington's Comprehensive Wildlife Conservation Strategy (WDFW 2005) reports that habitat loss, fragmentation, and degradation are the major challenges to Washington's wildlife. Much of this challenge is associated with the state's increasing human population1 and the residential development2 that will support this increase.

How and where we develop on the landscape will determine which species will do well and which species will not do well in Washington's future. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) developed this guidance document to help local land use and conservation planners consider biodiversity in the planning process, while recognizing the many other planning considerations addressed by local communities.

We often use "conservation of wildlife habitat and/or species" as shorthand for the more complex idea of biodiversity (see box) and as a useful way to communicate information about important ecosystem processes. The goal of this document is to provide information for planners and others to use in minimizing the impacts of development to terrestrial wildlife, and to conserve biodiversity that supports healthy, native wildlife populations.

We will provide science-based recommendations stating, in general, that wildlife is best served by:

  • Keeping large, connected patches of undeveloped native vegetation intact.
  • Encouraging and maintaining low zoning densities within and immediately surrounding high-value habitat areas and encouraging maintenance of native vegetation.
  • Managing road systems to minimize the number of new roads and new barriers to important animal movement corridors.
  • Planning open space to incorporate high-value habitat and corridors for animal movement.
  • Zoning for higher densities within urban and developed landscapes to avoid sprawl.

Biodiversity has aesthetic, cultural, educational, and economic value to people. The retention and restoration of wildlife habitat in the developing landscape provides ecological services important to humans and communities. These ecological services include improved water quality, improved water storage and availability, buffering and control of storm water and floods, pollination, food production, soil fertility, pest control and the reduction of carbon dioxide (a greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change). The focus of this document is on lessening adverse impacts to biodiversity as land uses change, thereby enabling more wildlife habitat and species, and the ecological services they do provide, to be retained in developing areas.

Partners in Planning: State and Local Roles Regarding Fish and Wildlife

Over fifty percent of the land in Washington is in private ownership. Cities and counties, working with their local citizenry, have primary responsibility for planning where and how this land may be developed. The Growth Management Act requires local governments to accommodate population growth and protect public resources, including fish and wildlife, from the potential impacts of population growth. This guidance document was developed to help local planners, consultants, and community groups approach this task in a holistic, science-based manner. Although WDFW has permitting authority over certain activities affecting fish and wildlife (e.g., hydraulic project approvals; hunting and fishing licenses; enforcement of endangered, threatened, and sensitive species regulations), its primary role in the protection of fish, wildlife, and habitat is in supporting and partnering with city and county governments. WDFW develops scientific information, monitors the locations and health of species and habitats, and provides information and technical assistance to local governments that have planning responsibilities and regulatory authorities over the developing landscape.

This Publication in the Context of Other Guidance Documents

This guidance document joins resource guidance documents provided by other state agencies for use in local planning and is intended to be used in concert with them. Some of these other documents are listed in Table P.1. Other planning resources available from local, state, and federal agencies as well as non-profit groups include mapping tools and databases, recovery plans, and county biodiversity maps available at a variety of planning scales.

1 Our state is predicted to grow by over 2.1 million people through 2030. (Source: Washington State Office of Financial Management, Forecast of the State Population, November 2006.)

2 This document focuses on impacts to wildlife related to rural and urban residential development. Other land uses, such as conversion and management of land for agriculture, timber harvesting, and industrial development also affect wildlife and habitat, but these are not the focus of this document.

Suggested citation

Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. 2009. Landscape Planning for Washington's Wildlife: Managing for Biodiversity in Developing Areas. 88 Pp + App. Olympia, Wa.