Puget Sound Nearshore Ecosystem Restoration Project

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The Puget Sound Nearshore Ecosystem Restoration Project is a General Investigation co-chaired by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. It has been funded at various levels from 2001 until current date (2017), and has proceeded through a number of stages, best described through a review of the significant publications.

Conceptual Development 2001-2006

A set of early publications defined a shared conceptual model as well as a strategic framework for a regional ecosystem restoration effort. The Nearshore Science Team was unusual in that it was relatively autonomous and was assembled as an interdisciplinary scientific team specifically to avoid the confusion of science and agency interest.

  • Fresh et al 2004 - Guidance for Protection and Restoration of the Nearshore Ecosystems of Puget Sound described how existing restoration and protection actions could better integrate a process-based view of nearshore ecosystems.
  • Goetz et al 2004 - Guiding Restoration Principles established the philosophical basis for the PSNERP project effort--how the state and federal government should pursue large scale protection and restoration. It is interesting to evaluate the final documents compared to this early vision.
  • Van Clieve 2004 - Application of "Best Available Science" in Ecosystem Restoration: Lessons Learned from Large-Scale Restoration Efforts in the USA looked toward other ecosystem management efforts (Everglades, coastal Louisiana, and San Francisco Bay) for lessons learned.
  • Simenstad et al 2006 - Conceptual Model for Assessing Restoration of Puget Sound Nearshore Ecosystems provided the process-structure-function language that would shape future work, and envisioned a shared analytical framework for building cumulative scientific understanding of those processes far beyond what was achieved by the project. This work informed conceptual sub-model development in later work by Clancy and Schlenger.
  • Gelfenbaum et al 2006 - Coastal Habitats in Puget Sound: A Research Plan in Support of the Puget Sound Nearshore Partnership was developed to support the USGS CHiPS program, as well as identify a set of short term discrete research goals that could advance nearshore ecosystem management.

Scientific Synthesis ~2004-2007

A series of publications was developed by the Nearshore Science Team to quantify landscape conditions and change, and describe the state of knowledge about vital ecosystem components.

  • Finlayson 2006 - The Geomorphology of Puget Sound Beaches preceded the VEC efforts, but provides a more technical view of the processes and structures of beach systems, informing later work.
  • The Vital Ecosystem Component Reports were a series of monographs on a set of nearshore species or features. While the scientific founders of the project were comfortable with the "process-based" philosophical foundations established in 2004-2006, program management realized that the restoration effort would need to communicate about specific charismatic or economically important features of the nearshore. The nine VECs were selected both for their linkage to nearshore systems, but also for their storytelling value. These reports also served to, for better or for worse", frame PSNERP as "more than salmon recovery".
    • Dethier 2006 - Native Shellfish in Nearshore Ecosystems of Washington State focuses on native clams and olympia oyster.
    • Buchanan 2006 - Nearshore Birds in Puget Sound focuses on surf scoter, black oystercatcher, and dunlin because of their close ties to diverse nearshore habitats.
    • Fresh 2006 - Juvenile Pacific Salmon and the Nearshore Ecosystem of Puget Sound is focused on nearshore habitat use by juvenile chum and Chinook salmon.
    • Kriete 2007 - Orcas in Puget Sound
    • Brennan 2007 - Marine Riparian Vegetation Communities of Puget Sound
    • Pentilla 2007 - Marine Forage Fishes in Puget Sound
    • Johannesson & MacLennon 2007 - Beaches and Bluffs of Puget Sound and the Northern Straits
    • Mumford 2007 - Kelp and Eelgrass in Puget Sound
    • Eissinger 2007 - Great Blue Herons in Puget Sound describes the status and distribution of this iconic species
  • Lechine & Peterson 2007 - Valuing Puget Sound’s Valued Ecosystem Components is the contribution from the Nearshore Science Team's "token social scientist" to consider how sectors of society outside of natural resource management might consider the value of natural resources.

Change Analysis 2005-2011

The Change Analysis is perhaps the seminal scientific product of the PSNERP effort. It assembles best available, sound-wide data of consistent and therefore comparable quality, that describes historic conditions, and current conditions (circa 2006) including definition of thousands of geospatial units covering the entire Puget Sound Basin based on a division of the shoreline into drift cell components, and each respective watershed. It also includes the digitized historical shoreline from turn-of-the-century charts. Design is based on comparison of "shoreline process units" of variable scale.

  • Fung & Davis 2005 - Historic Characterization of WRIA9 Shoreline Landforms provided a test study of the nearshore change analysis methodology for the urban shorelines of WRIA 9.
  • Shipman 2008 - A Geomorphic Classification of Puget Sound Nearshore Landforms - clarified and defined the taxonomy for Puget Sound "shoreforms", which provide the fundemental definition of place in all subsequent work. Shoreform and drift cell are intertwined and provide a conceptual challenge for defining discrete management units, leading to the development of overlapping Shoreline Process Units in the final change analysis geodatabase.
  • Simenstad et al 2011 - Historical Change and Impairment of Puget Sound Shorelines provides an explanation and analysis of the vast data development work, resulting in the nearshore database. Actual metadata are found in the report distributed with the geodatabase.
  • The Nearshore Geodatabase is archived at the Washington Geospatial Data Exchange at UW, divided by sub-basin, and with the geospatial methodology documentation. Only the full Puget Sound Basin dataset has the strategy analysis results.

Conservation Strategy 2008-2012

A series of publications were developed by the Nearshore Science Team and later in collaboration with the Nearshore Implementation Team to develop "preferred alternative" for nearshore restoration. This included a range of lesser known analyses that describe the difficult context for large scale restoration.

  • Boevers 2008 - Justin Boevers was a graduate student at UW School of Marine Affairs who analyzed the apparent weak application of Adaptive Management in ecosystem restoration.
  • Clancy et al 2009 - Management Measures for Protecting and Restoring the Puget Sound Nearshore attempted to both describe the full range of potential actions, while linking those actions to the process-structure-function language of the conceptual model, while also documenting best practices for each management measure. The focus on structure measures begins to show the shift in the program towards the "hammer in the hand" provided by USACE, and away from the comprehensive ecosystem management vision of early documents.
  • Griener 2010 - Principles for Strategic Conservation and Restoration provided a review of conservation literature looking for general strategies in developing conservation programs, drawing heavily from the "island biogeography" literature. This tidy set of principles informed Cereghino et al's strategies as well as the benefit quantification models developed for USACE incremental cost benefit analysis.
  • Schlenger et al 2011 - Strategic Needs Assessment: Analysis of Nearshore Ecosystem Process Degradation in Puget Sound began the process of translating the change analysis into metrics to describe relative process degradation in each management unit. A number of Schlenger metrics were ultimately incorporated into the Strategies analysis. Different metrics were stronger or weaker depending on the quality of data available in the nearshore geodatabase. The tension between the PSNERP prioritization based on primary physical principles, compared to more biologically based prioritization schemes advanced by local groups and under SMPs came more into focus. In addition it was difficult to translate the high resolution characterization of likely process impairment provided by the change analysis into claims of lost ecosystem function within specific units.
  • Fresh et al 2011 - Implications of Observed Anthropogenic Changes to the Nearshore Ecosystems in Puget Sound was the concluding report of the Nearshore Science Team, to provide a response to the question of "why does observed change matter?". It provided a narrowing of overall concerns, and pointed to a set of primary observed problems that in turn informed the Strategies Report.
  • Cereghino et al 2012 - Strategies for Nearshore Protection and Restoration in Puget Sound attempts to synthesize Griener, Clancy, Schlenger and Fresh into a discrete set of "strategies" that define a set of actions in places that best match observed regional degradation, and thereby classify the population of ecosystem sites created by Shipman and Simenstad. It still contains the error caused by coarse scale assessment and fails to integrate observed biology and only makes cursory consideration of water quality.

Project Development

A sequence of work as completed to evaluate a snapshot of the Puget Sound restoration project portfolio (circa 2009?) to identify projects consistent with the proposed strategic approach.


Upon approval of the "preferred alternative" by the Chief of Civil Works and by Congress in the Water Resources Development Act of 2016, staff attention turned to implementation of the selected actions.



  • Project Publications
  • PSNERP obtained a new construction authority under the Water Resources Development Act or WRDA in 2016.
  • The General Investigation defines a "problem" and identifies how the USACE will seek authority to remedy the problem in collaboration with other agencies and "the local partner" which is WDFW representing Washington State.
  • The PSNERP study did not expend effort engaging a large constituency during its development, such that it never fully engaged and incorporated other authorities or efforts in the nearshore such as efforts by the MRCs, Shellfish Industries, Water Quality authorities, or Salmon Recovery. This has likely affected use of PSNERP data and approaches.