Avoid disturbing or destroying critical or sensitive habitats.
To ensure the conservation and protection of rare, endangered, threatened or priority species, local, state/provincial and federal laws identify and designate critical or sensitive habitats.
In Washington State, this includes:
- Critical habitats identified under the Endangered Species Act (ESA);
- Priority habitat species identified by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) in the Growth Management Act;
- Critical areas and critical salt water and freshwater habitat defined by the Shoreline Master Program (SMP) Guidelines (WAC 173-26).
- Under the SMP, critical saltwater habitats include: kelp beds; eelgrass beds; spawning and holding areas for forage fish such as herring, smelt and sand lance; subsistence, commercial and recreational shellfish beds; mudflats; intertidal habitats with vascular plants; and areas with which priority species have a primary association.
- Also from the SMP, critical freshwater habitats include those portions of streams, rivers, wetlands, and lakes, their associated channel migration zones, and flood plains designated as such.
In Canada, and particularly in British Columbia, this includes:
- Areas providing important feeding, resting, spawning, nesting, or rearing habitat for species designated under the federal Species at Risk Act or the BC Wildlife Act, or identified as “red” or “blue” listed species by the BC Conservation Data Centre;
- “Environmentally Sensitive” or “Significant Areas” identified by the federal, provincial, regional or municipal government in your area;
- Shore and marine areas identified as “Important Bird Areas” by Nature Canada and Bird Studies Canada;
- Other valued foreshore habitats including estuaries, fresh and saltwater marshes, wetlands, eelgrass beds, kelp beds, clam beds, spawning and rearing areas for fish, and feeding and resting areas for seabirds and marine mammals.
How to proceed
There may be current, approved inventories that can help you identify whether critical or sensitive habitats occur on your property. Check with your local government, or visit their website for information on local “environmentally sensitive areas” (ESAs), or check online or at local offices of provincial or state environment agencies.
In Washington State, these include (but are not limited to) inventories and maps prepared under the Growth Management Act (GMA) “critical areas,” and Shoreline Master Program updates; for example, shoreline characterization maps and reports. In B.C., several regional districts and municipalities have identified and mapped ESAs, and may have additional information on critical species and their habitats. You can also search by municipality for local species at risk on the Species at Risk Primer website and the B.C. Species and Ecosystems Explorer (see “For more information” for website addresses).
For larger projects, you may need to hire a qualified professional to conduct a habitat assessment of your property. Local biologists/ecologists are familiar with pertinent legislation, inventories, and data sources and are knowledgeable of local species and habitats.
Note that where losses of existing critical or sensitive habitats are unavoidable due to the property size or configuration, such losses must be offset with onsite compensation; that is, creating or restoring the same habitat somewhere else on the property. Offsite compensation for habitat losses cannot be used to meet this requirement. A qualified professional can help to identify appropriate compensatory measures.
Ways to protect these habitats include:
- Incorporate valued habitat features as part of the desired improvements.
- Design to avoid activities and development that may result in loss of critical or sensitive habitats. Avoid putting fill or installing protective works below the natural boundary or OHWM.
- Preserve native vegetation and/or salvage native plants for use in your landscaping scheme. This is often less expensive than buying new plants; an increasing number of landscapers specialize in plant salvage.
- Locate overwater structures (docks, walkways, piers), over areas with little or no vegetation; use grated surfaces on overwater structures that are placed over vegetative features to allow light penetration.
- Avoid landscaping or siting buildings and access roads in areas of marsh or wetlands that may impact drainage to the shore.
- Restore areas disturbed during development or previously degraded areas whenever possible.
For this requirement, you will need to provide:
- The location of any critical or sensitive habitats in the shore zone (the riparian, foreshore or subtidal/littoral zone) on your Existing Conditions Plan.
- Proof that these habitats will not be permanently lost or damaged, or that any losses will be compensated. This may be a report by a qualified professional, or a copy of the approvals or permits from the applicable regulatory agency demonstrating that no critical/sensitive habitats are impacted or that any such losses have been adequately compensated.
For more information
Species at Risk and Local Government: a Primer for BC: www.speciesatriskbc.ca
BC Species and Ecosystems Explorer: www.env.gov.bc.ca/atrisk/toolintro.html
BC Conservation Data Centre: www.env.gov.bc.ca/cdc/
BC Sensitive Ecosystems Inventory: www.env.gov.bc.ca/sei/
Canadian Species at Risk Act (SARA): www.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/species-especes/home_e.asp
Important Bird Areas in Canada/BC: www.ibacanada.com/explore.jsp?lang=en
Seattle, City of. 2011. Green Shorelines: Bulkhead alternatives for a healthier Lake Washington. 34 pg. Go to www.seattle.gov/dpd/ and enter “Green Shorelines” in the search box.
Washington Dept. of Fish and Wildlife. Priority Habitats and Species. wdfw.wa.gov/conservation/phs/