Protecting Biodiversity in Pierce County Through Open Space Planning
Creation of a Biodiversity Plan for Pierce County
During the open space planning process, Pierce County planners were approached by personnel from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and the University of Washington to include lands as open space that represent the greatest biological diversity or "biodiversity."
Biodiversity is generally defined as the full range of life in all of its forms. This includes the habitats in which life occur, the ways that species and habitats interact with each other and the physical environment and the processes necessary for those interactions (Washington Biodiversity Council).
Pierce County embraced this philosophy and, along with several key partners, embarked on a multi-year process to develop a Biodiversity Plan for Pierce County. The main stakeholders in this process were the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, University of Washington-Department of Urban Planning and Design, Tahoma Audubon, and Metro Parks-Tacoma.
The planning methodology utilized to identify these biodiverse areas is known as the "gap analysis." Gap analysis uses mapping technologies and other wildlife / habitat relationship models to predict core habitat areas that contain the highest level of species richness and representation remaining across a landscape. The core habitat areas once identified are subsequently refined. The resulting coverage is the Biodiversity Network.
The final Pierce County Biodiversity Network identifies 16 biologically-rich areas and connecting corridors that cover 267,784 acres of land. The habitat types represented in the Biodiversity Network include lowland riparian areas and wetlands, oak savannas and prairies, old-growth forests, and alpine meadows. Many of these habitats contain imperiled species including Chinook Salmon, Western Gray Squirrel, Spotted Owl, Grizzly Bear, and Western Pond Turtle.
Implementation Strategies for the Biodiversity Network
The Biodiversity Network coverage was integrated into the County's Comprehensive Plan Open Space Corridors map, first in 1999 and then updated and revised in 2004 based upon the Pierce County Biodiversity Network Assessment.
The assessment provides policy and programmatic recommendations to assist planners in the planning processes and determine appropriate conservation measures. The emphasis of the assessment is on proactive conservation of multiple species rather than on reactive restoration of individual species.
For example, the information in the Biodiversity Network Assessment was the basis for the creation of a residential sensitive land use designation in the county's community planning process. The RSR land use designation provides for the establishment of habitat conservation based design standards such as low impact development techniques and minimum native vegetation retention.
The county may also use the Biodiversity Network information in various incentive programs such as the Transfer of Development Rights, Conservation Future and Current Use Assessment.
The Pierce County Biodiversity Alliance (PCBA)
In order to accomplish the preservation of biodiversity within the Pierce County Biodiversity Network, a group of dedicated stakeholders formed an alliance referred to as the Pierce County Biodiversity Alliance (PCBA).The main emphasis of the PCBA is non-regulatory in nature and focuses on public outreach to property owners within this network, providing education on how to maintain the habitats and biological diversity.
As of 2011, PCBA has developed Stewardship Plans in two areas within the Pierce County Biodiversity Network, Gig Harbor Biodiversity Management Area (BMA) and Lower White River BMA. The purpose of these plans is to develop long-term biodiversity management strategies that supplement the Pierce County Biodiversity Network Assessment recommendations.
Each of these plans, Crescent Valley BMA Stewardship Plan and Lower White River BMA Stewardship Plan, contain a detailed overview of the biodiversity efforts and management strategies within the BMA.
In 2009, the Crescent Valley BMA Stewardship Plan was adopted and incorporated into the Pierce County Comprehensive Plan. It is the hope of the PCBA, that in the near future, all 16 BMAs will have a Stewardship Plans that guide planning processes to take into account these rich biodiverse area and implement long term management strategies to protect and conserve these areas.
For more information about open space and biodiversity planning in Pierce County, please contact Sean Gaffney, Long Range Planning Manager, at (253)798-2724.
- More information about the NatureMapping Program