Shared Strategy for Puget Sound

Posted: Mar 11, 2008

Adult Chinook salmon
Photo courtsey of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Location:  Puget Sound, Washington

Objective:  To work with communities to protect and restore salmon runs across Puget Sound.

Participants:  State, tribal, federal and local governments; industry; and conservation groups including: Puget Sound Action Team, Washington Department of Natural Resources, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Washington Department of Ecology, King County Department of Natural Resources, Nooksack Tribe, Swinomish Tribe, Skagit Tribe, Tulalip Tribes, Nisqually Tribe, Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, Long Live the Kings, Washington Environmental Council, Washington Forest Protection Association, NOAA Fisheries, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, EPA Region 10, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, as well as 14 Watershed Recovery Planning Groups which themselves include representation of a diverse array of citizens, state agencies, local governments, tribes, industry, and conservation groups.

History:  Shared Strategy for the Puget Sound, a nonprofit organization, was conceived after the ESA listings in 1999 of Chinook, Hood Canal summer chum and bull trout.  These listings brought a growing crisis to the forefront of discussion in the Pacific Northwest. Decades of work had already gone into reducing salmon harvest in response to dwindling populations. Federal, state, tribal and local government, along with various industries, had all taken steps to protect salmon.

There was increasing concern, however, that all these salmon recovery efforts and initiatives were operating in isolation - unaware of other actions and efforts launched with the same laudable goals. The need to develop comprehensive framework and collaborative strategy became more important with each additional level of agency or organization action and as the efforts moved from near-term actions to a long-term plan for recovery.

 View of Dungeness spit
Photo by Linda Farmer, courtesy of the Puget Sound Parntership
The idea to create a nonprofit to coordinate the numerous governments and interest groups grew out of an informal consensus among regional leaders that a new approach was needed to build on salmon recovery efforts already underway in the watersheds.  This was unlike the way recovery plans have been written in the past where the federal government makes natural resource decisions and prescribes local actions.  Shared Strategy believed that local stakeholders were in the best position to find lasting solutions for their communities for complex ecological, economic and cultural challenges.  Instead of adding another level of bureaucracy, Shared Strategy built on assessments, processes, programs, and regulations already underway and knit them together into a comprehensive strategy to recover salmon at a regional scale. 

The primary work units of the effort were 14 watershed groups across Puget Sound that drafted recovery plans for their areas.  In addition to watershed groups, the Puget Sound Salmon Recovery Council that, lead by former EPA Administrator Bill Ruckelshaus and tribal leader Billy Frank Jr., set the broad direction for the effort.  A small non-profit staffed and facilitated the effort.  The Technical Recovery Team (TRT), appointed by the NOAA Fisheries Service, acted as the effort's science arm and was comprised of leading fisheries scientists and ecologists from around the region.  The TRT defined the technical parameters for recovery and played a significant role in evaluating the watershed recovery plans to ensure that they would add up to recovery.

Each watershed group drafted individual recovery plan consistent with TRT guidance and policy review by an interagency team of policy experts.  NOAA Fisheries Service worked with the Shared Strategy non-profit and the TRT to synthesize the watershed plans into a single plan for the region. 

Accomplishments:  In June 2005, Shared Strategy presented its regional plan for ESA-listed Puget Sound Chinook to NOAA.  The Northwest Region then prepared a supplement that clarified and expanded on ESA recovery requirements.  Following public comment on the proposed plan, NOAA finalized these two documents and formally approved the plan in January 2007.  Together the Shared Strategy plan and NOAA Fisheries Service supplement comprise a final recovery plan for Puget Sound completing for the first time ever in the history of the Endangered Species Act a recovery plan developed and endorsed by the community. 

The 4,000 page plan identifies key elements for recovery and assesses how current efforts support it; sets recovery targets and ranges for Chinook populations in each watershed; identifies watershed-level actions needed to meet targets; determines if identified actions will lead to recovery and a plan for making adjustments, and secures commitments to complete the plan and implement agreed-upon actions.

 Residents watching sail boats on the Puget Sound
Photo courtsey of the Puget Sound Partnership
Building on the momentum created by Shared Strategy, Washington Governor Christine Gregoire announced a major initiative to protect and restore Puget Sound by 2020.  She has proposed a $200 million investment to clean up Puget Sound, with more than $50 million dedicated to salmon-habitat-restoration projects.  A new state agency was created to implement the Governor's initiative and carry out the salmon recovery work called the Puget Sound Partnership.  The Puget Sound Partnership is in the process of developing an Action Agenda that will prioritize cleanup and improvement projects, coordinate federal, state, local, tribal and private resources to ensure that all entities are working cooperatively.

Challenges/constraints:  While commitments have been made to take the actions identified in the recovery plan, maintaining sufficient funding and political will to fulfill these commitments will not be easy.  Implementing the recovery plan will cost $1.6 billion over the next ten years.  Currently, only a third of the funding needed to fully carry out the plan is in place. 

The responsibility for carrying out the salmon recovery work has been transferred from a neutral third party nonprofit to a state agency-the Puget Sound Partnership.  The new agency will have to balance successfully maintaining the collaborative nature of the effort working with local watershed groups while they continue to be one of the stakeholders with interests in the process.

The recovery plan includes an adaptive management strategy, or a plan for learning from implementation results and adjusting decisions as necessary, in order to deal with the many inherent unknowns.  The geographic area is vast; the legal, biological, and political issues are complex and interdependent; the information is incomplete; and the recovery planning process is new in some places and evolving in all places.  The success of the adaptive management strategy will require diligence and a high level of coordination and follow-through in order to respond to these changes and uncertainties.

One of the primary uncertainties facing the region is growth.  Salmon recovery depends in part on the willingness of people living and working in Puget Sound to do the hard work of protecting intact areas.  The area's population is expected to only continue growing-an additional 2 million people are expected to move to the region by 2025.  Additional people mean additional housing developments, roads, and parking lots, all of which make efforts to protect and restore salmon habitat even more daunting.  But the Partnership and the Governor say they are determined to continue building on the cooperative approach used to create the recovery plan to restore Puget Sound and are convinced that such an approach is most effective way to accomplish their goals.

For more information see:

Shared Strategy for Puget Sound

Puget Sound Partnership

Legislation introduced to restire Puget Sound

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