Policy pivot in Puget Sound: Lessons learned from marine protected areas and tribally-led estuarine restoration

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Environmental change amplifies the challenge of protecting and restoring Puget Sound. As rising pressures from population growth, development, unsustainable resource use, climate impacts and other factors alter this urbanizing basin, efforts to recover salmon and ecosystem health and to enhance climate resilience face unprecedented social complexities and intensifying competition for space. A multi-method study of citizen and practitioner perspectives on protection and restoration suggests that capacity to manage under these conditions can be improved through strengthening an approach that has already become central in restoration practice: multiple-benefit planning. In this research, we examine and compare planning approaches used to develop marine protected areas (MPA) and estuary restoration (ER) projects in Puget Sound. Surveying non-tribal public attitudes toward these projects, we found limited knowledge concerning existing MPAs but support for wider use of such protections. We find that initiatives pursuing conservation, protection, restoration and resilience can gain advantage from (a) broadly inclusive and collaborative planning; (b) recognition of tribal treaty rights, management authorities, and leadership; (c) careful consideration and mitigation of project impacts on affected people (e.g. especially tribal and non-tribal fisheries for MPAs; farm interests and landowners for restoration projects). We note that “no-take” MPA designation has stalled, while ER efforts are overcoming sharp objections and controversies by crafting projects to deliver multiple social-ecological benefits: improved flood control and drainage, salmon recovery, recreational enjoyment, and resilience to climate change. Comparable strategies have not yet evolved in designation of “no-take” MPAs in Puget Sound. We offer conclusions and recommendations for accelerating conservation and resilience initiatives to keep pace with a changing environment. A key human dimensions research-based recommendation is that increasing environmental pressures intensify the need to strengthen collaborative and sustained planning and implementation processes.

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Ocean and Coastal Management