PRESSURE: Human Population Growth
Washington’s population grew by 63 percent between 1990 and 202020 and is expected to exceed 9 million by 2040.21 This is equal to adding more than three cities the size of Seattle during the next 20 years. Salmon, like people, need habitat. For salmon, this means rivers with cool, clean water and a variety of habitat features that allow them to rest, hide from predators, and spawn. It means diverse estuaries where salmon can grow and transition to and from saltwater. And it means rivers, shorelines, and an ocean with ample food. In many cases, however, habitat for people and salmon conflict: residential, commercial, and industrial development displaces or destroys salmon habitat.
As the number of people in the state continues to increase, more land and water are needed for people to live, work, and play. As a result, more Washington salmon habitat will be lost unless development practices change dramatically to favor increased growth in urban areas, rather than developing rural areas.
Washington’s population is expected to grow – adding more than three cities the size of Seattle – during the next 20 years.
Population Density by County
Data source: Washington State Office of Financial Management
PRESSURE: Shoreline Armoring
Puget Sound has lost habitat function across one third of its 2,500 miles of shoreline to armoring.22 Armoring includes bulkheads, seawalls, and other structures built on the shoreline to protect houses and other infrastructure. These hardened shorelines alter salmon and forage fish habitat and significantly impact natural shoreline processes. Armor prevents waves from eroding bluffs to create beaches, where salmon find the insects and other fish they eat.
Puget Sound has lost habitat function across one third of its 2,500 miles of shoreline to armoring.
PRESSURE: Cleared and Developed Floodplains
Riparian (vegetated streamside) zones and floodplains are critically important for aquatic species such as salmon23and serve to buffer the effects of climate change. Well-vegetated riparian areas shade and keep water cool, filter polluted water, and support trees with roots that help stabilize banks and provide hiding places for fish. Floodplains slow, filter, and store flood water; provide shelter and food for young fish; and buffer communities against floods. Unfortunately, 50-90 percent of land along waterways in Washington has been lost or extensively modified by humans.24
As the number of people in the state continues to increase, more land and water are needed for people to live, work, and play.
PRIORITIES AND PROGRESS
The 2021 Governor’s salmon strategy update emphasizes the value of maintaining, preserving, and restoring riparian lands. This will ensure cooler rivers and streams, climate resiliency, and the health of fish, other wildlife, and ecological systems for the economic and social well-being of this state and its people.
Increased state and federal funding is supporting grant programs that conserve and restore freshwater stream and riparian areas, marine shorelines, and estuaries. This infusion of funds has allowed groups around the state to approach larger, more complex projects that make meaningful progress toward habitat restoration and conservation targets. Despite this infusion, much more funding and predictability of funding is necessary to achieve habitat goals in support of salmon recovery.
Preserving habitat is far less expensive than restoring degraded habitat.
Current regulations protecting habitat generally aim for “no net loss,” meaning that development avoids or mitigates damage to habitat and watershed functions. In practice, however, these regulations are interpreted, administered, and enforced inconsistently across the state, and habitat is being lost. Updating local, state, and federal land-use programs (and enforcing them) is the only certain way to reverse the decline of habitat in Washington while accommodating growth.