STORIES FROM THE PEOPLE PROTECTING AND RECOVERING PUGET SOUND

PSAR critical habitat and restoration projects help communities, salmon, and the economy

We’re pleased to announce the Puget Sound Acquisition and Restoration (PSAR) program’s large capital ranked project list for 2021–23. This list includes eight large, regionally significant projects from around Puget Sound that will contribute to salmon recovery. You can view the full list in detail here. This list contains nearly $40M in key habitat projects. All of these projects deserve full funding in the capital budget, which the Washington State Legislature will decide on in the next session.

Screenshot of the Puget Sound Acquisition and Restoration fund Large Capital Ranked List, showing the list of eight ranked projects and information about PSAR

PSAR projects not only help with salmon recovery in the region, but they also build up our region’s ability to deal with climate change, offer relief from flooding, and create jobs and recreational benefits. Studies estimate that every $1 million dollars spent on restoration in Puget Sound contributes an average of 16.7 jobs to the local economy (Nielsen-Pincus and Moseley 2010). PSAR projects have created more than 3,400 jobs in the last 13 years. 80 percent of the funds invested in restoration projects stay in the county where the projects are located (Seattle Times 2017), which helps rural and distressed counties. Restoring healthy salmon runs is also key for recovering endangered Southern Resident Killer Whales, who rely on healthy salmon as prey.

The program has used $157 million in federal and other matching funds to produce almost $560 million in economic activity. PSAR projects have helped our partners restore and protect more than 3,200 acres of estuary habitat, 140 river miles for fish passage, and 12,000 acres of watershed habitat. Many projects support multiple benefits.

The top three projects from the PSAR ranked list

The #1 project on the ranked list is the “Fall City Floodplain Restoration Project,” sponsored by King County. This effort will construct two floodplain reconnection projects on both sides of the Snoqualmie River. This project will remove 2,600 feet of levee, restore 145 acres of floodplain, and reconnect almost a mile of side channel. This restoration will improve salmonid habitat for all life-stages. It will help the recovery of ESA-listed Chinook salmon and steelhead trout and help coho, chum, and pink salmon and cutthroat trout.

The #2 ranked project on the list is the Stillaguamish Tribe’s “Florence Island Tidal Wetland Acquisition Project.” This project will acquire and protect roughly 537 acres of former tidal wetlands between Hatt Slough and the Old Stillaguamish Mainstem, which will later be restored. Historically this land was a complex mix of wetlands which helped support the fish and wildlife upon which local Tribes depended. Acquiring the land is the first step in returning the land to the influence of the tide and river. The Florence Island site could bring the restored area of the Stillaguamish delta to over 1,200 acres, almost double the tidal wetland area that existed in 2011. Large-scale project opportunities like this are rare in Puget Sound estuaries.

The #3 ranked project on the list is the City of Sumner’s “Sumner White River Restoration Project.” This project will restore 169 acres of floodplain, river bank, and wetland habitat in the Lower White River, including 3.5 miles of in-stream habitat. This project creates important flood protection for the City of Sumner and major businesses, as well as restoration of habitat for White River Spring Chinook, a key food source for endangered Southern Resident Killer Whales.

These three projects are a sample of the exciting projects that are on the full ranked list. The projects selected for the list will all add to the health of the Puget Sound ecosystem. And many of the projects have multiple benefits: they will restore thriving salmon runs, create jobs, protect homes and businesses, and increase our region’s ability to adapt to climate change.

Selection process

During the proposal review, which began in March 2020, 22 different experts evaluated the PSAR projects for this funding round. The ranked list was developed by judging each project against criteria that included benefit to salmon, connection to the Puget Sound Action Agenda, climate change, and other key factors for project success. The technical review team recommended the ranked list, which was then reviewed and approved by the Puget Sound Salmon Recovery Council and the Leadership Council.

Next steps for the PSAR ranked list

We submitted the PSAR ranked list to the Salmon Recovery Funding Board, who approved it at their meeting in September. Next, the Washington State Recreation and Conservation Office (RCO) will submit the PSAR budget request, including the ranked list, to the Office of Financial Management (OFM), which will make a recommendation to Governor Inslee as to what should be included in his capital budget request. We believe each project on this list represents a significant opportunity to recover salmon in our region, and we will strive to secure funding for all of these projects both from the legislature’s 2021–23 capital budget and other public and private funding sources.

Vital Sign connections

Graphic for the Puget Sound Vital Signs, representing the entire roster of Vital Signs.

The Vital Signs measure the health of Puget Sound and progress toward its recovery. 

Chinook Salmon

Puget Sound Chinook salmon are a cultural icon of the Pacific Northwest and are listed as “Threatened” under the federal Endangered Species Act; currently they are about one-third as abundant as they were in the early 1900s. PSAR projects contribute to the recovery of Puget Sound salmon populations by protecting or restoring critical habitat areas.

Floodplains

Floodplains are dynamic and diverse landscapes that provide invaluable ecosystem services including critical habitat for the health, growth, and survival of Pacific salmon and steelhead, flood damage mitigation, improved water quality, vital habitat for a suite of flora and fauna, recreational opportunities, and economically valuable farmlands. Many PSAR projects, including the Fall City Floodplain Restoration and the Sumner White River Restoration projects mentioned in the article, restore important floodplain areas throughout the Puget Sound region.

Estuaries

A functioning, resilient Puget Sound ecosystem is defined to include tidally-influenced wetland habitats at the estuaries of Puget Sound’s major rivers that provide ecosystem functions, goods, and services. 75 percent of river delta tidal wetlands have been lost or degraded in Puget Sound. The Estuaries Vital Sign tracks indicators of restoration in the 16 largest river deltas in Puget Sound. PSAR projects like the Florence Island Tidal Wetland Acquisition Project help to restore tidal wetlands, which are a crucial component of estuarine habitat.

Outdoor Activity

The Outdoor Activity Vital Sign tracks Puget Sound residents’ participation in nature-based recreation or work activities. Whether for recreational or occupational purposes, participation in nature-based outdoor activities is beneficial in multiple ways. Many PSAR projects create recreational benefits for the communities in which they are located. PSAR projects throughout the Puget Sound region offer opportunities for bird and wildlife viewing, beach walking, hiking, surfing, river tubing, foraging, and other activities. In addition, as mentioned above, studies estimate that every $1 million dollars spent on restoration in Puget Sound contributes an average of 16.7 jobs to the local economy (Nielsen-Pincus and Moseley 2010), and PSAR projects have created more than 3,400 jobs in the last 13 years.

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Making Waves is the Puget Sound Partnership’s online magazine. Making Waves features stories from the people protecting and restoring Puget Sound.

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