Puget Sound Nearshore Habitat Conservation Calculator
Online tool draws on latest habitat research to help offset impacts on species.
A priority in Puget Sound is the conservation of nearshore habitat, including wetlands, estuaries, and tidal zones that make up some of the most valuable habitat for the region’s salmon and steelhead. Endangered Southern Resident killer whales depend on these salmon for prey, making this habitat important for the whales also. Nearshore habitat is also a keystone of the regional economy, supporting fishing, shellfish farming, tourism, and more.
Unfortunately, most nearshore habitat in Puget Sound is gone, with more than 90 percent of tidal wetlands lost to development. That leaves salmon without essential nursery habitat they need to feed and grow strong to boost their later survival in the open ocean. This is especially concerning for Puget Sound Chinook salmon, which is listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.
Further loss of nearshore habitat increases the risk of extinction, eroding species’ chances of recovery. The region has addressed other major threats to salmon by improving fish passage past dams, reducing fishing pressure, and adapting fish hatchery practices to help conserve imperiled populations. The continued loss of nearshore habitat, so closely tied to salmon survival, remains the single greatest risk to listed Puget Sound Chinook salmon.
Avoiding Further Loss
Those working to develop and maintain projects in the nearshore, such as marinas and docks which impact this habitat in Puget Sound, have options to pursue their projects without further degrading the crucial shoreline habitat overall. They can pursue conservation offsets through a habitat conservation bank.
Recovery plans developed under the Endangered Species Act for listed salmon and steelhead in Puget Sound call for protecting and restoring nearshore habitat. However, the first step is to avoid further losses as shoreline development and maintenance projects continue to support the region’s growth and economy.
To offset project-related habitat impacts and avoid net loss of nearshore habitat, project developers can, for instance, opt to make improvements in their project zone (e.g., remove creosote pilings). Another option to offset impacts is to improve nearshore habitat elsewhere by restoring historic tidal wetlands, for instance.
The question for many project proponents is, how much offset is enough? NOAA Fisheries has drawn on the latest habitat science to provide tools that objectively provide an answer.
A Conservation Calculator to Determine Habitat Impacts
To determine how much restoration is needed to offset the impacts of development on this habitat and the species that depend on it, a “conservation calculator,” based on the latest science, is now in use.
The calculator determines changes in habitat value in a common currency that represents habitat impacts as debits, and habitat improvements as credits. Developers can then offset debits with an equivalent number of credits, avoiding further net loss of nearshore habitat. Credits may come from improvements undertaken as part of the same project or from improvements in other areas in the Puget Sound region.
- Conservation Calculator
- Calculator User Guide (PDF, 60 pages)
- Map Resources for the Conservation Calculator: Natal estuaries & pocket beaches
- Frequently Asked Questions
- Habitat Equivalency Analysis Publications
- Estuary and Salmon Restoration Program
Working Together on Solutions
NOAA Fisheries is prepared to assist project developers in Puget Sound in reducing impacts to nearshore habitat and evaluating options for offsetting those impacts. We are also prepared to be flexible in terms of how project proponents obtain habitat credits to offset the impacts, or debits, associated with development. We recognize that this is a new approach, with only a few existing conservation banks. We are working to improve that. In the meantime we may be able to help in a variety of ways:
- We can assist you in finding and/or purchasing credits. While we may not have a complete list of all purveyors or opportunities, we may be aware of opportunities.
- We will not require the use of a specific credit provider, but we will approve the use of credits nonetheless.
- We do not determine the cost of credits—those are determined by the seller and the market.
Workshops, Presentations, and Training Resources
Every year we provide a virtual public workshop to go over the Conservation Calculator that includes a live Q&A session. Some of the workshops and presentations we have given include:
- Crediting/Debiting Tools for Estuarine Habitat in Washington State (2020)
- Puget Sound Conservation Calculator Workshop | NOAA Fisheries (2021)
- A New Conservation Marketplace in Puget Sound (2021)
Additional resources can be found on our Workshops, Presentations, and Training Resources page.
Nearshore Calculator Expert Office Hours
We are now offering virtual Nearshore Calculator assistance! Sign up for a 20 minute session and a member of the NOAA Fisheries Nearshore Team will join you for a video meeting (or you can phone in). We recommend a representative from the action agency is also invited to the meeting, if your questions are project specific. You can include a note to invite additional people in your meeting via the "comments" box on the sign up page. We will make sure all parties receive an invitation and link. You will also be able to share the meeting link with other people who would like to attend. Prior to your meeting, please email a draft Conservation Calculator to email@example.com, if relevant, along with any additional information that might help us prepare for your appointment.
Salish Sea Nearshore Programmatic (SSNP) Biological Opinion
On January 5, 2022, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Department of the Army signed a memorandum that addresses infrastructure and maintenance projects. As a result, NMFS and the US Army Corps of Engineers worked collaboratively on a programmatic biological opinion for the Salish Sea nearshore (Salish Sea Nearshore Programmatic, SSNP). This programmatic addresses the backlog of projects and future nearshore projects in this important ecological area. The biological opinion was finalized on June 29, 2022.
Conservation offsets are required for many actions to qualify under the SSNP programmatic. See the posted public outreach event presentation below for more details on which projects require offsets. The most expedited way to align a project with the programmatic, if offsets are needed, is to use the Puget Sound Nearshore Habitat Conservation Calculator. Submission of a Calculator for each project is highly encouraged.
Conservation Credit Providers and Salmon Recovery Resources
For projects in the Hood Canal basin, credits may be available through the Hood Canal Coordinating Council. Please contact:
Mitigation Program Manager
Hood Canal Coordinating Council
Phone (360) 517-5714
The Blue Heron Slough Conservation Bank has conservation credits in a more limited service area that includes the estuary of the Snohomish River expanding into the marine waters around Vashon Island and south to approximately the city of Des Moines (applicants will need to contact that bank for exact locations). Please contact:
Wildlands PNW Director of Environmental Operations
Phone (503) 241-4895 ext.
Contact the Puget Sound Partnership for nearshore conservation credits in your area.
Puget Sound Partnership
Phone (360) 918-1337
Please direct questions regarding use of the Conservation Calculator and Puget Sound Nearshore consultations to this email: firstname.lastname@example.org. For specific project related Conservation Calculator questions please attach a draft Conservation Calculator with your email.