Puget Sound may be breathtakingly beautiful from above, but looks can be deceiving with review by expert ecologists, tribes and public agencies all pointing to an imperiled ecosystem.
Our beloved orcas are at risk of becoming extinct. Salmon stocks are a fraction of historic levels. Critical forage fish populations like the Cherry point herring stock are nearly gone altogether.
And even with tremendous restoration efforts and the more than $200 million dollars spent each year on recovery efforts, we are losing ground – leaving Puget Sound on the brink.
Here’s one big reason why…Decades of Regulatory Failures.
We know … That’s a wonky term that might make it sound like a dull issue without much impact. But the truth is, it’s one of the greatest threats to Puget Sound because when the laws put in place to protect nearshore ecosystems are ignored by the agencies responsible for making sure they are applied to development projects – habitat is lost with every permit issued.
In Washington State, our primary law governing nearshore habitat protection is called the Hydraulic Code, and any in-water development work requires a permit called an HPA which is under the jurisdiction of the State Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). Unfortunately, there are significant gaps in the WDFW administration of the law with the department approving every permit, regardless of scale or impact. Similarly, issued permits are commonly missing important environmental regulations developed to protect fish life and habitat.
Multiple parties, including environmental groups, public agency employees and the Northwest Treaty Tribes have all raised concerns related to habitat loss as a result of WDFW administration of the HPA permit program. Even WDFW has documented this issue with internal program evaluation finding only a small portion of HPAs reviewed were appropriately protecting important ecosystem functions.
This means that nearshore habitat is lost every day with each new dock, bulkhead, marina, dredging operation or export facility permit issued without appropriate environmental regulations. Eelgrass beds that were once vast ribbons of green are shaded out until they’re gone. Forage fish spawning grounds are decimated. Important sedimentation processes that nourish beaches and give them life are choked off.
Until We Fix This... We Can’t Save Puget Sound.
This is why Sound Action stepped up to bring change by acting in a watchdog role and reviewing every nearshore development permit issued by WDFW. When science-based information is missing or overlooked by WDFW, we unabashedly present detailed documentation on species and habitats present as well as impacts of the proposal. And if a permit is approved without appropriate provisions or in violation of state law, we take legal action by appealing the permit.
Acting as a regulatory watchdog group is the prime work of Sound Action. Every bulkhead permit. Every dock permit. Every marina, float or buoy permit. Every dredging proposal and every export facility permit... we review them all and take action if the permit issued didn’t have proper habitat protections or when required regulations weren’t applied. Each year we review more than 500 permits and have filed dozens of appeals, with most having a positive resolution.
This interactive map shows the locations of the HPA permits issued by WDFW since 2016. Zoom all the way in to put your virtual eyes on the beach then click on the red marker to see a pop-up of the general project information.