Protecting Nearshore Habitat and Functions in Puget Sound: June 2010 Revised Edition


Published: October 2007

Revised: June 2010

Pages: 122

Author(s): EnviroVision, Herrera Environmental, and Aquatic Habitat Guidelines Working Group



In 2007, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), along with other state agencies and others in the scientific community developed "best available science (BAS)" for the nearshore environment. This "BAS" for a variety of topics was synthesized in Protecting Nearshore Habitat and Functions in Puget Sound: An Interim Guide (October 2007). The guidance was considered "interim" in recognition that science will evolve rapidly especially with the Governor's attention focused on the health of the Puget Sound.

In 2009, the Aquatic Habitat Guidelines Program endorsed the white paper, Protection of Marine Riparian Functions in Puget Sound, Washington. The purpose of this white paper is to provide shoreline planners and managers with a summary of current science and management recommendations to inform the protection of ecological functions of marine riparian areas. The scientific recommendations in the white paper have been added and the "interim" guidance has been replaced by the revised Protecting Nearshore Habitat and Functions in Puget Sound (June 2010). Minor amendments were made throughout to reflect the updated science. 


Increasing human population growth combined with the desirability and high value of shoreline properties, means that shoreline modifications will continue to occur in the Puget Sound area. "Shoreline modification" is a broadly used term covering a variety of structures and activities intended to adapt the shoreline environment for human use. These activities can range from installing stairways across bluff faces, to building docks and bulkheads, to dredging. Shoreline modification has been accelerating significantly in recent decades in response to population growth and development of the shoreline for commercial, industrial, residential, and recreational uses. These activities have contributed to wide scale degradation and loss of important habitat in the nearshore environment. The remaining habitat is becoming increasingly fragmented and degraded by ongoing activities.

The Shoreline Management Act (SMA) provides the framework for protection of the nearshore. Adopted in 1971 from a citizen's initiative, the Act's purpose is to protect the state's shorelines from uncoordinated and piecemeal development. This is accomplished through locally prepared and administered Shoreline Master Programs (SMPs). SMPs are currently being updated statewide consistent with new guidelines (WAC 173-26, Part III). The SMP update process requires local governments to evaluate existing nearshore conditions and establish policies and regulations that will protect nearshore ecological functions. During this update process, local planners and officials have the opportunity to determine where, and under what conditions, certain shoreline uses and activities should be permitted or prohibited. In this way, inappropriate modification activities can be prohibited, thereby avoiding future impacts altogether. In those circumstances where modification activities are allowed, local governments have the authority to ensure that policies, regulations and specific standards of local master programs are being met. Shoreline protection is also integrated into many local critical areas ordinances under the Growth Management Act (GMA).

This guidance has been developed as a companion to the Department of Ecology's SMA Guidelines and critical areas protection guidance offered by the Department of Commerce.

This guidance provides a synthesis of current science on several important nearshore habitats and processes, and directions for where to find data and specific recommendations for moving through the mitigation sequence; from avoidance of new activities and reducing impacts from approved activities, to mitigating for cumulative impacts. In addition to helping local planners prepare SMP updates, this document will also assist Ecology in their review to ensure that SMP updates are based on good science.

The intent of this guidance is to:

  • Provide the information in the form of user-friendly text and graphics with reliance on tools such as flow charts and tables rather than extensive narrative.
  • Provide recommendations in a form that lays out a decision sequence that begins with avoiding impacts from these activities and moves through mitigating for cumulative impacts.
  • Provide useful approaches to protecting nearshore habitat that are supported by the prevailing science.
  • Provide basic information on key nearshore habitats and how they are impacted by shoreline modifications, in summary form.

Draft documents

Draft documents are provided for informational purposes only. Drafts may contain factual inaccuracies and may not reflect current WDFW policy.