Healthy habitat is crucial for recovering threatened and endangered species and for supporting sustainable fisheries. It provides food, protection, and safe areas for fish and wildlife to reproduce. Degradation of habitat can limit their survival and productivity and can undermine the integrity of the ecosystem and the safety of coastal communities.
The West Coast Region spans from Washington to southern California, and as far inland as Idaho. It encompasses a wide range of habitats, from marine waters, to rivers, to estuaries, to seagrass beds, to rocky reefs and deep-sea corals. These habitats are vital for fish such as salmon and steelhead, groundfish, abalone, sea turtles, marine mammals, and other wildlife.
We help other federal agencies conserve habitat for protected species and for essential fish habitat to support commercial, tribal, and recreational fisheries. We review federal proposals for land and water development to make sure these activities do not further degrade habitat or harm protected species. We also provide technical assistance and funding to support restoration activities that improve habitat. With our partners, we are working on hundreds of projects to protect and restore vital habitat for West Coast fish and wildlife populations.
Learn more about our habitat conservation activities:
Essential Fish Habitat
Essential fish habitat includes all types of aquatic habitat where managed fish species spawn, breed, feed, or grow to maturity. These habitats include rivers, estuaries, wetlands, rocky reefs, seagrasses, and coral reefs. These habitats are "essential" because, without them, fish would not be able to survive and provide for sustainable fisheries.
Endangered Species Act
Several elements of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) provide NOAA Fisheries opportunities to conserve habitats in collaboration with federal action agencies and partners. Key tools for habitat conservation include:
Critical habitat is designated for endangered and threatened species.
- Critical habitat maps and GIS data for West Coast ESA-listed species
- Critical habitat designations for West Coast ESA-listed species
Section 7 Consultations
We conduct Section 7 consultations with federal agencies on actions that may affect listed species or designated critical habitats.
Habitat Conservation Agreements
We develop these agreements with private landowners and non-federal entities to manage their land in a manner that protects, restores, or maintains habitat conditions for listed species.
Recovery plans provide actions to conserve habitat based on what the species need to be viable again.
NOAA Fisheries reviews federal hydropower projects through our ESA, Clean Water Act, Essential Fish Habitat, and Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act authorities. For hydropower projects owned by non-federal entities, the Federal Power Act authorizes NOAA Fisheries to provide mandatory conditions for fish passage. We also recommend other measures to conserve fish species through Federal Energy Regulatory Commission processes.
Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act
The Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act establishes that fish and wildlife conservation receive equal consideration and be coordinated with all other features of water-resource development programs. It also requires federal agencies to consult with NOAA Fisheries whenever federal actions result in the control or modification of a natural stream or body of water.
Mitigation Banks and In-Lieu Fee Programs
Mitigation banks and in-lieu fee programs are important tools to help meet conservation objectives and to help streamline and create transparent and predictable regulatory processes. We work with federal and state agencies, tribes, industry, non-governmental organizations, and other partners to establish market-based systems for compensatory mitigation.
Nearly half of the historical tidal wetlands have disappeared from Oregon's coastal estuaries. In Puget Sound, more than 80 percent of tidal wetlands have been lost and vast areas of floodplain wetlands have been cut off from rivers or filled for development. In California, nearly 90 percent of wetlands have been lost, mainly due to a booming population and economic development.
We work with our partners to reconnect these marshes and floodplains to tidal or riparian waters and to restore habitat. Populations of salmon and steelhead throughout the West Coast are listed as threatened or endangered under the ESA. Historical and ongoing habitat loss is a primary factor for these species’ declines. We restore spawning and rearing habitats for fish and improve fish passage by removing dams or replacing undersized culverts.
Learn more about restoration programs for salmon and steelhead habitat on the West Coast, including how to strengthen your restoration project proposals and funding opportunities.
Aquatic Invasive Species
Exotic and non-native species are those that are introduced to an area outside of their native range. When these species survive and thrive in the new location, reproducing and competing with native organisms, they are known as invasive species. Their presence can cause environmental harm to the local ecosystem, and negatively impact local economies. In marine, estuarine, river, and lake ecosystems, these are known as aquatic invasive species.
Puget Sound Action Plan: We collaborate with partners under this plan to protect and restore habitat throughout Puget Sound, for the benefit of our living marine resources and coastal communities.
Pacific Marine and Estuarine Fish Habitat Partnership: We collaborate with a consortium of organizations to advance our understanding and conservation of juvenile fish habitat in estuaries and nearshore marine waters.
Habitat Blueprint - Russian River Habitat Focus Area: NOAA’s framework for collaborating with partner organizations to address the growing challenge of coastal and marine habitat loss and degradation in this northern California system.
- References and Publications
- Estuaries: How Levees & Tide Gates in Estuarine Wetlands Affect Pacific Salmon & Steelhead (2012)
- Floodplains: The Importance of Healthy Floodplains to Pacific Salmon & Steelhead (2016)
- Nearshore Habitat: How Bank Armoring & Overwater Structures Shape the Health of Pacific Salmon & Steelhead (2012)
- Stormwater Runoff: How Toxic Runoff Affects Pacific Salmon & Steelhead (2016)
- Streamlining Restoration Project Approval through programmatic consultation (2018)
- Kelp Forests
- The Importance of Eelgrass
- California Eelgrass Mitigation Policy