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Recommendation: 48

Status: Pending

Adopt and implement policies, incentives, and regulations for future growth and development to prevent any further degradation of critical habitat and sensitive ecosystems; enable and channel population growth in ways that result in net ecological gain; evaluate and report outcomes for all jurisdictions at the state, county, tribal, and municipal levels.


Action 1

Revise laws to shift from a “no net loss” standard to a “net ecological gain” standard to better protect salmon and orcas from population growth. Net ecological gain refers to taking actions through development and land management that improve the quality and quantity of the functions of the
natural environment.

Action 2

Provide adequate funding and support to both state natural resource agencies and local governments to engage with communities, improve guidelines, align policies and regulations, and effectively enforce statutes that protect habitat, while funding restoration.

Action 3

Discourage development along important shorelines and forests by requiring mitigation ratios greater than 1:1 (a net gain in habitat) while encouraging development in former contaminated industrial or commercial areas that would not impact critical habitats.

Action 4

Implement regulations that prevent development if stormwater and wastewater infrastructure are within a percentage of their thresholds.

Action 5

Consider equity across rural and urban areas. Provide incentives to developing in areas that need more people to support their businesses while ensuring that the development does not come at the cost of the environment.

Action 6

Increase affordable housing and reduce urban sprawl by growing “up instead of out.”

Action 7

Promote programs to reduce commutes and improve public transportation.

Implementation Details

To prevent further loss of critical habitat and restore what already has been lost, the Governor’s Southern Resident Killer Whale Task Force urges Washington State and local jurisdictions to shift their growth standards from “no net loss” to “net ecological gain.” The Growth Management Act should be more responsive to the needs of the ecosystem, treating habitat as critical public infrastructure and emphasizing protection over mitigation. The environmental baseline from which we are measuring improvements must be established and defined. This recommendation and the actions identified are closely linked to existing recommendations:

  • Strengthen agency rules, regulations, and policies. Enforce habitat protection laws and increase incentives for landowners (Recommendations 3, 4, and 5).
  • Invest in and fully implement salmon recovery plans (Recommendations 1 and 2).
  • Focus “Be Whale Wise” outreach around boating regulations in the Seattle area on new residents (Recommendation 19).
  • Expand the Governor’s Maritime Blue scope of work to implement recommendations from the task force and pursue shipping and other maritime innovations that benefit Southern Residents (Recommendation 46).
  • Fund local governments to conduct facilities planning through 2070 that looks at population growth through a centralized wastewater and onsite sewage and stormwater lens to ensure increased contaminant loads do not impact salmon and orcas (Recommendation 32).

Recent Progress

The Legislature awarded $256,000 to the Office of Financial Management in 2021 to assesses how to incorporate a net ecological gain standard into state land-use, development, and environmental laws to improve endangered species recovery and ecological health. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is working on the report.

More details may be found in the progress reports in the resources library.