How much progress are we really making in restoring Puget Sound?
On one hand, community partners get together with us here at the tribe and at local governments to push forward a few habitat restoration projects a year. At the very most.
But, on the other end, dozens and dozens of shoreline development projects seem to sail through the local permitting process. Each of these projects is small on its own (a new bulkhead there, a dock here), so no one is bound to complain.
But, these tiny projects all put together are having a massive impact on Puget Sound, and its ability to produce salmon.
Nearshore habitat provides a critical nursery for juvenile salmon as they prepare to make their seaward migration, and also serves as migration corridors for returning adult salmon.
Here’s the short course on how these tiny developments can add up:
One way things like bulkheads and docks damage the environment is by disconnecting land and marine ecosystems. This disconnection prevents things like logs and bugs from entering and moving along the water, which ultimately alters the food chain and eliminates important habitat.
Another impact from shoreline modification is that it affects currents, which change where and how much sand is deposited. This in turn harms habitat of forage fish and invertebrates that are an important source of food for young and returning adult salmon.
But, I see dozens of these projects go through, with no mind paid to what the total impact of all the projects ever permitted is having.
Every letter we receive from Pierce County about yet another bulkhead or dock somewhere in Puget Sound includes language like this:
What does that mean in everyday language?
The County insists that this dock (or bulkhead on its own) isn’t a problem. But, they’re not going to actually look at its individual impact. Also they are not going to look at cumulative impacts to find out if this is the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Or, in this case, Puget Sound’s back.
Here’s a visualization of Horsehead Bay (you can see a larger version here), which in its natural state would be great rearing habitat for juvenile salmon. But, when you add a few dozen docks, the value to salmon plummets.