Habitat Conservation on the West Coast
More information about habitat conservation programs and resources in the West Coast Region.
The West Coast region spans Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and California, and encompasses a wide range of habitats, from the headwaters of rivers to estuaries, to seagrass beds, rocky reefs, and deep sea corals. These habitats provide the foundation of life for marine species including salmon and steelhead, groundfish, other marine fish, abalone, sea turtles, marine mammals, and many other species. Habitat provides food and safe areas for species to breed, spawn, nest, rear, and feed. Degradation and loss of habitat can limit species' survival and undermine the health and resilience of coastal communities. Several protected species have a mere fraction of historical habitat remaining.
We carry out activities and consultations with other federal agencies to help them conserve habitat for protected species and for essential fish habitat to support commercial, tribal, and recreational fisheries. Our habitat conservation and restoration efforts use science-based strategies and are conducted in collaboration with numerous partners along the West Coast.
Authorities and Programs
Through our authorities, NOAA Fisheries reviews proposals for land and water management to help ensure that these activities conserve and do not further degrade habitat. With many partners, we develop and implement recovery plans for endangered and threatened species as well as habitat conservation agreements. We support habitat restoration through technical assistance and funding to improve habitat capacity. With our partners, we work on hundreds of projects annually to protect and restore vital habitat for salmon and steelhead, marine mammals, abalone, sea turtles, rockfish, and other aquatic species.
Essential Fish Habitat (EFH)
The Magnuson Stevens Conservation and Management Act provides for the conservation of EFH. EFH 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. NOAA Fisheries works with the Pacific Fishery Management Council, federal and state agencies, tribes, and other partners to identify EFH for each federally managed fish species and to develop conservation measures to protect and enhance these habitats.
California Eelgrass Mitigation Policy (PDF, 48 pages)
Endangered Species Act (ESA)
The purpose of the ESA is to conserve the ecosystems upon which endangered and threatened species depend. Habitat is the foundation of these ecosystems. Several elements of the ESA provide NOAA Fisheries opportunities to conserve habitats in collaboration with federal action agencies and partners. Key ESA tools for habitat conservation include:
Critical Habitat: NOAA Fisheries designates critical habitat for endangered and threatened species. Federal agencies must ensure that any activities they authorize, fund, or carry out are not likely to destroy or adversely modify designated critical habitat.
- Critical habitat maps and GIS data for West Coast ESA-listed species
- Critical habitat designations for West Coast ESA-listed species
ESA Section 7 Consultations: The ESA requires federal action agencies to consult with NOAA Fisheries on actions that may affect listed species or designated critical habitats.
Habitat Conservation Agreements: The ESA provides for the conservation of habitat for listed species. It does so by supporting private landowners and non-federal entities in their efforts to manage their land in a manner that protects, restores, or maintains habitat conditions for listed species. These conservation agreements include:
Recovery Plans: The ESA requires NOAA Fisheries to develop and implement plans for the recovery of threatened and endangered species. All recovery plans in the West Coast Region discuss how habitat destruction and curtailment contributed to the decline and the need to list the 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 (FPA) authorizes NOAA Fisheries to provide mandatory conditions for fish passage and to recommend other measures to conserve fish species through Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) processes.
Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act (FWCA)
The FWCA establishes that fish and wildlife conservation shall receive equal consideration and be coordinated with all other features of water-resource development programs. It also requires federal agencies (action agencies) to consult with NOAA Fisheries whenever the waters of any stream or water body are proposed or authorized to be impounded, diverted, the channel deepened, or the water otherwise controlled or modified.
Mitigation Banks and In Lieu Fee Programs
Mitigation banks and in lieu fee programs are important tools to help meet conservation objectives for trust resources under our various authorities and also 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. For example, Conservation Banks and in lieu fee programs for ESA-listed species and Restoration Banks for injuries to NOAA trust resources as part of our Natural Resources Damage Assessment settlements.
Nearly half of the historical tidal wetlands have disappeared from Oregon's coastal estuaries, while 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 by levees or filled for development. In California, nearly 90 percent of the extant wetlands have been lost from habitat destruction, mainly spurred by 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 species are known as aquatic invasive species.
- 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
Habitat Conservation Partnerships
Puget Sound Action Plan: NOAA Fisheries collaborates with several partners to implement the Puget Sound Action 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
The Pacific Marine and Estuarine Fish Habitat Partnership (PMEP) is a nationally recognized partnership that seeks to advance regional and national goals relating to juvenile fish habitat. NOAA Fisheries collaborates with a consortium of organizations focused on the conservation and improved understanding of West Coast fish habitat in the region’s estuaries and nearshore marine waters.
Russian River Habitat Blueprint: The Habitat Blueprint is NOAA’s framework for collaborating with partner organizations to address the growing challenge of coastal and marine habitat loss and degradation. The Russian River in northern California was selected as a Habitat Focus Area under the Habitat Blueprint.