Because we live in a rapidly growing part of the country, we now risk losing essential habitats that will affect our quality of life forever. This closing window of opportunity demands that we work together to ensure the character of our region into the future. Our focus is to protect three major habitat types – marine shorelines and estuaries; rivers, wetlands, and the forests around them; and oak woodlands and prairies – along with working farms, forests and ranches. .
Marine Shorelines and Estuaries
Puget Sound is the second largest estuarine system in the United States. The South Sound’s estuaries are transition zones where freshwater rivers and streams mix with salt water. Estuaries filter pollutants and improve water quality.
Acre for acre, estuaries are among the most biologically productive ecosystems on earth. Many species of birds, mammals, fish, and other animals and plants rely on estuarine habitats to live, feed, and reproduce.
They also support commercial and recreational shellfish production, and provide an essential aspect of South Sound’s iconic natural beauty.
Wetlands, Riparian Areas, and Associated Upland Forests
Wetlands provide habitat for hundreds of species of waterfowl and many other migratory and resident birds, as well as for fish, amphibians, mammals, insects, and an array of plant species. Wetlands reduce the impacts of flooding and erosion by slowing and absorbing storm-water runoff. Wetlands also can filter out sediments and pollutants and help provide clean water to streams and aquifers.
Riparian areas form strips of land that border creeks and rivers. Healthy, functioning riparian areas and connected forests stabilize soils, filter out sediment and pollution, reduce runoff, improve water quality and reduce stream temperatures. They also provide habitat and food for 80% of our region’s fish and wildlife.
Prairies and Oak Woodlands
10,000 years ago, retreating glaciers helped form an expanse of prairie and oak savannahs across a significant area of the southern Puget Sound lowland region. Prairie plants and flowers sustained Native Americans who occupied the area for centuries before settlers arrived.
Home to many unique plant and wildlife species, native prairies are among the most endangered ecological communities in North America, and in southern Puget Sound only 2-3% of the original prairies and oak woodlands remain.
Southwest Washington’s extensive farms, ranches, and timberlands provide important economic and conservation benefits. These working lands contribute millions of dollars to local economies by producing commodities and providing jobs and a sustained income base.
Working lands often contain important wildlife habitat and other conservation values; and buffer and connect protected lands nearby. Often it is more beneficial for working lands to stay in production rather than be converted to other uses — a key concern in the face of economic pressure for more intensive development.
By working cooperatively with private landowners to place conservation easements on working lands, we help keep those lands productive and viable; support local business and the rural character of our region; and protect wildlife habitat, watershed functions and open space.