Challenges 4

Habitat Degradation

Habitat Degradation

Habitat degradation icon of city skyscrapersSalmon need healthy places to live. This means rivers with cool, clean water and a variety of habitats that allow them to rest, hide from predators, and spawn. It means intact estuaries where salmon can grow and transition to and from saltwater. And it means rivers and shorelines with ample food.

Keeping these areas functioning for salmon often conflicts with where people want to live and work and the resulting land development. As the number of people in the state continues to increase, more land and water are needed for houses, roads, crops, and other uses that compete with the needs salmon have for varied and intact habitat.

Multiple maps of Washington showing population increases


Washington’s population has grown by 55 percent since 1990 and is expected to grow to 9 million by 2040.13



This is equal to adding more than three cities the size of Seattle during the next 20 years. With this population growth, more habitat will be lost.

Ensuring that salmon have places to grow, feed, and spawn will challenge land-use planners, local governments,

businesses, and residents to rethink how Washington plans for salmon and how Washington accommodates more people on the landscape with less impact.

Washingtonians must look long-term to plan for salmon. Planning for roads and other infrastructure begins 20 years or more before actions are taken. Salmon and other natural resources need similar planning horizons and considerations.

Shoreline Armoring

Development along shorelines often results in bulkheads, seawalls (shown below), and other armoring to protect buildings and infrastructure. These hardened shorelines destroy salmon habitat. The armor prevents waves from eroding the sediment and sand to create beaches, where salmon find the insects and other fish they eat.

Shoreline wall of rocks

About one-third of Puget Sound’s 2,500 miles of shoreline are armored.14 The good news is that removal of armoring is increasing and permitting of new armor is slowing.15

Between 2015 and 2018, there was a net reduction of about 1 mile of armoring in the Puget Sound region.16 In addition, new methods of soft armoring are proving beneficial for people and salmon.

Stormwater Runoff

Salmon need clean water to survive. As cities have developed, the amount of paving and hard surfaces has increased. Today, stormwater running off those hard surfaces is the top pollution source impacting water bodies in and around Puget Sound.17


Graphic showing the increasing number of vehicles over timeAs rain runs off impervious surfaces such as roofs, roads, and pavement, it collects pollution from oil, fertilizers, pesticides, garbage, and animal manure before heading, usually untreated, into street drains and then directly into streams and bays and then the ocean.18

This soup of toxins in untreated stormwater can decrease the oxygen levels in the water,19 limit the ability of some salmon species to find food and avoid predators, and sometimes lead to large fish die-offs in urban streams.20

As Washington’s population continues to grow, threats to water quality are likely to increase, creating more challenges for salmon recovery. Solutions to treating stormwater exist and have been found to make the difference between life and death for salmon. For example, running stormwater through systems like rain gardens removes pollutants and reduces harm to coho salmon.21

Planning for roads and other infrastructure begins 20 years or more before actions are taken. Salmon and other natural resources need similar planning horizons and considerations.

Riparian Areas and Floodplains

In Washington, 50-90 percent of land along waterways (riparian areas) has been lost or extensively modified by humans.22 Riparian areas and floodplains are critical for salmon and will increase in importance as environmental conditions become more extreme due to climate change. Forested riparian areas provide shade and cool the water. They also hold trees that drop branches and leaves into the water, increasing the amount and quality of habitat in streams. Floodplains slow and store water during all times of the year, provide shelter and food for young fish, and buffer communities against floods.

Graphic showing shoreline trees shading water for fish



Watch Riparian Zone Video