Federal Action Plan coming together
for Puget Sound

A draft of a Federal Action Plan to protect and restore Puget Sound is scheduled for completion before Donald Trump takes office on Jan. 20, according to officials involved in developing the plan.

Colvos Passage from Anderson Point on the Kitsap Peninsula Photo: Lumpytrout, Wikimedia Commons
Colvos Passage from Anderson Point on the Kitsap Peninsula // Photo: Lumpytrout, Wikimedia Commons

The plan will help demonstrate that Washington state and nine federal agencies are aligned in their efforts to recover one of the most important waterways in the nation, according to leaders involved in a new Federal Puget Sound Task Force.

The task force was created in October by President Obama, who essentially elevated Puget Sound to a high-priority ecosystem, on par with Chesapeake Bay, the Florida Everglades and the Great Lakes, according to a news release from the White House.

A memorandum of understanding (MOU) signed among federal agencies replaces a less structured MOU that was scheduled to expire next year. The new agreement calls for a five-year action plan to be completed by June 1, but a draft should be ready by Jan. 18, according to Peter Murchie, who manages Puget Sound issues for the Environmental Protection Agency and chairs the task force.

“Part of the goal is to have something in front of the transition folks … that they can then shepherd through individual budget and prioritization processes that they’ll be doing with new leadership,” Murchie told the Puget Sound Partnership’s Leadership Council two weeks ago.

Steve Kopecky of the White House Council on Environmental Quality said the Obama administration agreed that a draft of the plan should be developed before a change in administration, even though the plan is designed to be updated annually and is likely to undergo many changes.

“That being said, the first one is probably the most powerful,” Kopecky said. “It is the model that new folks are going to use, so we’re trying to make sure that we have a good solid foundation model before we all collectively go out the door.”

More than anything, the plan “nests” within various federal agencies, he said. It stops being an Obama plan and becomes an agency plan. While new people will move into Washington, D.C., offices next year, most of the folks in the regional offices will remain.

As it is shaping up, the plan is built around the three major Strategic Initiatives approved by the Puget Sound Partnership:

  • Protect and restore habitat,
  • Prevent pollution from stormwater, and
  • Protect and restore shellfish beds.

“It’s not going to be everything,” Kopecky said. “Things that are too politically hot, we’ll probably address in other ways.”

An outline of the plan reveals that most of the actions align with the Action Agenda, a biennial plan approved by the Puget Sound Partnership, although the federal plan emphasizes federal actions. Whether priorities in the two plans line up is yet to be seen.

“The (Federal) Action Plan is not a new strategic plan,” Murchie said. “It calls for us to use the Action Agenda as the strategic plan, along with tribal priorities and recovery goals and other things that are our shared strategic plans for Puget Sound. It’s really the federal family saying where are we going to prioritize our efforts to support those plans.”

In addition to the Action Agenda, the federal plan will rely on these documents:

  • “Western Washington Tribal Treaty Rights at Risk,”
  • “Tribal Habitat Priorities,”
  • “State of Our Watersheds,” and
  • Salmon recovery plans.

The memorandum of understanding was largely designed to create a structured relationship among the federal agencies and to enlist less-involved players, such as the Navy and Army, according to Kopecky.

The nine federal agencies that signed onto the MOU are:

  • Department of Interior, which includes the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
  • Environmental Protection Agency
  • Department of Commerce, which includes the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
  • Department of the Army, which includes the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
  • Department of the Navy, which operates bases and ships in Puget Sound
  • Department of Agriculture, which includes the U.S. Forest Service
  • Department of Transportation
  • Coast Guard
  • Council on Environmental Quality

The agreement contains many of the elements pushed in legislation proposed by U.S. Reps. Denny Heck, D-Olympia, and Derek Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor. Like their bill, the MOU calls for building a strong relationship with area Indian tribes — including consultation with area tribes and an annual meeting with regional leaders.

Heck and Kilmer call their bill the Promoting Unified Government Efforts To Save Our Sound — or the Puget SOS Act.

While Implementation Strategies are not called out explicitly in the initial outline, state and federal agencies are supporting a renewed effort to focus their efforts on actions to improve the Puget Sound Partnership’s Vital Signs indicators. For an overview of the effort involving Implementation Strategies, check out the story I wrote for the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound.

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