More than 25 percent of the Puget Sound shoreline is “hardened” with concrete bulkheads, rock seawalls, or wooden pilings. The purpose of a “hardened” shoreline structure is to protect the land and properties from the damage of erosion. However, in the case of the Puget Sound these structures are largely unneeded. Levels of erosion in the Sound are moderate to low and can be managed without these structures. Movement of sediment is also vital to the maintenance of a healthy coastal ecosystem, shifting rocks and sand from beach to beach, or from bluff to beach, filling in where it is needed. Shoreline “hardening” prevents this natural process and has degraded the coastal habitat of the Puget Sound. Additionally, many of these structures were built decades ago, before ecosystem and shoreline management were well understood. Now, many bulkheads and pilings are reaching their design life, causing further damage to the land and coastal ecosystem. After structural failures, landslides, or learning more about the ecosystem of the sound, landowners find themselves seeking information and assistance with next steps for coastline management on their properties.
With funding through the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife’s Estuary and Salmon Restoration Program and the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) National Estuary Program (NEP), Shore Friendly South Sound fits in perfectly to fulfill this community need. The initiative is a collaboration across conservation districts that connects waterfront homeowners with resources and professional guidance in Pierce, Thurston, and Mason counties. Specialists at each conservation district work closely with homeowners to improve marine shoreline stewardship, avoid new armor, remove existing armor, and use soft shore alternatives where needed. This collaborative effort benefits the communities, wildlife, nearshore ecosystems, and coastal processes of South Puget Sound.
“We are able to provide best available science and resources so they can see a different way forward, working with rather than against our natural systems, to the benefit of their property and the health of the Puget Sound,” said Mary Krauszer, Pierce Conservation District Shorelines Program Manager.
Site-Specific Technical Assistance
Conservation Districts come with a proven history of effective, site-specific technical assistance. The work conservation districts do results in stewardship projects that address a wide range of natural resource issues in diverse landscapes, from working farms to marine shorelines. Conservation district staff can look holistically at a property and assess the geology, hydrology, ecology, and coastal processes at play in that landscape – and layer those considerations with unique landowner questions about how to live in the middle of it all.
“We are adept at finding solutions within complex systems and landscapes. In South Puget Sound, the residential marine waterfront community has a growing interest and need for expert, non-regulatory guidance on shoreline management,” said Karin Strelioff, Thurston Conservation District Conservation Program Manager. “As Conservation Districts we are perfectly situated to address that need and to work collaboratively to help our community members manage their shorelines.”
Conservation district specialists conduct free site visits and hear from landowners about the concerns and goals for their properties, assess current conditions, and make recommendations for best management practices. Providing information and site-specific recommendations can help landowners consider all the options when making critical decisions that will impact not only their property but the shared nearshore environment and the health of Puget Sound. For landowners who are ready to take action to improve nearshore habitat or restore habitat-forming processes, Shore Friendly connects them to finical incentives to implement their Shore Friendly vision.
Local and Regional Collaboration
Each of the districts engaged with this initiative operates independent programs but find immense value in their ability to collaborate by sharing resources and knowledge to improve their ability to assist landowners in their counties. Funding and capacity can be used more efficiently when resources and ideas can be shared across the community. Each district benefits from sharing ideas, best practices, challenges, and opportunities.
“We have the luxury of sitting across the table from smart, committed partners doing the same type of work and developing new strategies together,” said Karin Strelioff. “The effectiveness of our discussions, brainstorming, and problem-solving is magnified by the collaborative nature of our effort.”
Providing Education and Expertise Beyond the Site-Visit
In addition to serving landowners on a one-on-one basis through site visits and technical assistance, the conservation districts involved in the Shore Friendly South Sound Initiative work to provide resources, outreach, and education to the broader community. Mason, Pierce, and Thurston Conservation Districts have produced informational videos, checklists, and guides that provide tips on how to maintain a healthy shorelines for members of the community to access on their own. They have also hosted webinars and workshops that engage and educate groups of community members while making connections to landowners who may be curious about seeking assistance, or want to connect with shoreline management specialists. Thurston Conservation District has also featured the Shore Friendly Program on two recent segments of their podcast, “Conservation Starters,” where they discussed shoreline management and stewardship for a broader listener audience.
The Shore Friendly South Sound Initiative showcases the benefits of regional, cross-district collaboration and the expertise that conservation districts have in providing site-specific landowner assistance. Conservation districts strive to support their community with free and voluntary programs and information to help guide landowners towards what will benefit not only the property, but the larger ecosystem and community as well.
This project has been funded wholly or in part by the United States Environmental Protection Agency under assistance agreement PC-O1J223-01 Contract #16-05251 through the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. The contents of this document do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Environmental Protection Agency or the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, nor does mention of trade names or commercial products constitute endorsement or recommendation for use.
Text by NACD Communications Specialist Mariah MacKenzie, Pierce Conservation District Shorelines Program Manager Mary Krauszer, and Thurston Conservation District Conservation Program Manager Karin Strelioff with Contributions from Mason Conservation District Habitat Technician Jacob Murray.