Management Recommendations for Washington's Priority Habitats: Managing Shrub-steppe in Developing Landscapes


Published: November 2011

Revised: September 2020

Pages: 85

Author(s): Azerrad, J. M., K. A. Divens, M. F. Livingston, M. S. Teske, H. L. Ferguson, and J. L. Davis.

Shrub-steppe is one of Washington's most richly diverse habitats and home to some species found nowhere else in the state. Because of this and because a large portion of Washington's shrub-steppe has been disturbed or lost, shrub-steppe was added to our list of Priority Habitats and Species (PHS).

These management recommendations were developed at the request of local governments to help them plan for rural and urban growth near shrub-steppe. We focused this publication on residential, commercial, and industrial development given the lack of guidance for this land use and excluded other land uses, such as agriculture and wind power because these topics are covered in existing publications.

These management recommendations offer strategies for balancing community growth with the needs and requirements of wildlife that use healthy shrub-steppe. The intended audience is city and county governments, developers, landowners, conservation groups, and others planning for future homes and businesses. While this is not a regulatory publication, we encourage land managers who work in this field to consider the strategies we offer.


This Priority Habitats and Species (PHS) publication identifies how to avoid and minimize impacts to shrubsteppe from development. Here we offer science-based recommendations for planning and permitting new development near shrubsteppe (Figure 1). This PHS publication meets an unmet need since no other guidelines deal with the effects of development on shrubsteppe. Although we offer no direct guidance for other activities like agriculture or energy development, other available resources do (Appendix 1).

We encourage local governments and other authorities to use our PHS shrub-steppe recommendations when creating, revising, or amending relevant plans and ordinances such as comprehensive and subarea plans, critical areas ordinances, and zoning codes. We also encourage landowners, developers, contractors and others to use this when planning, reviewing, or permitting an individual project proposal such as a single-family home, commercial development, or subdivision.

How We Organized this Publication

To get the most out of this publication, you first need to understand how it was organized. Although intended as a guide for making land use decisions, your understanding is enhanced when you know more about shrub-steppe. To that end, we began this publication describing the vegetation, soils and geology common to shrub-steppe.

We followed that with an overview of why shrub-steppe is important to wildlife and offered some perspective on why this habitat is in trouble. Here we also discussed the historic loss of shrub-steppe to give some sense of the severity of the problem. We then explained why shrub-steppe is valuable to wildlife and to Washington's biodiversity. Finally we gave an overview of the impacts of development.

Given that planning for development happens at multiple scales, we divided our recommendations into two primary sections. The first aids in planning for development over large areas. Those making decisions that influence how development proceeds over entire counties, watersheds, or subareas will find this section useful. Here the guidelines present techniques for identifying potential shrub-steppe across larger areas and ways to use regulations and non-regulatory incentives to protect habitat.

Those planning to develop a site will refer to the second of the two management-oriented sections. Here the audience includes current planners, developers, and consultants. The tools offered here help to identify habitat and spot where projects may have negative impacts. If impacts are probable, we offer strategies to develop a habitat management plan to avoid or minimize impacts.

Suggested citation

Azerrad, J. M., K. A. Divens, M. F. Livingston, M. S. Teske, H. L. Ferguson, and J. L. Davis. 2011. Management recommendations for Washington's priority habitats: managing shrub-steppe in developing landscapes. Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Olympia, Washington.