Ask the County Not to Roll Back Protections for Fish & Beaches

November 21, 2015 by islandersvoice1


Second message in a series received from Friends of the San Juans about the November 30 public hearing of the San Juan County Council to consider comments to the proposed update to the existing Shoreline Master Program. The time of the meeting will be announced at the end of next week.

Ask the County Not to Roll Back Protections for Fish & Beaches

Dear Public,

Do you like fish?

Well, we’ve learned a lot about the San Juans’ best fish habitats since the County last updated its Shoreline Master Program (“SMP”) in 1998.

For example, we now know that the San Juans host:

8 miles of the most important salmon habitat;

10 miles of forage fish spawning beaches; and

29.5 miles of feeder bluffs (which are the only source of sand for many local beaches, like Crescent Beach on Orcas and Spencer Spit on Lopez).

And we know that these specific areas provide substantial economic benefits, on the order of more than $2 million per year in ecosystem services.

However, the current SMP update would ignore that information for its shoreline zoning (called designations). In fact, it would decrease the amount of fish spawning beaches zoned either Natural or Conservancy by nearly 1/3 of a mile each. Also, while it would add some naturally-zoned shoreline for top salmon recovery areas and feeder bluffs, it would eliminate nearly 1 and 2 miles of conservancy shorelines for those special areas, respectively. In total, the SMP would protect only 33% of forage fish, 57% of top salmon, and 58% of feeder bluff habitat with a Natural or Conservancy designation. We believe that we can protect all 40 miles* of these most important habitats.

Why does shoreline zoning even matter?

Because it can sensibly direct more intense development to less sensitive shorelines and less intense development to more sensitive shorelines. For example, rather than promoting barge landings on surf smelt spawning beaches, zoning could prevent actions like landings that could bury or otherwise harm the fish eggs. Shoreline designations also establish the amount of public review for development, so it is important to apply a designation to sensitive shorelines that safeguards against harmful decisions made behind closed doors.

Does the SMP need to use information gained since 1998?

Yes! When counties decide how to zone shorelines, they must evaluate three factors: (1) the existing use pattern; (2) the biological and physical characteristics; and (3) community goals and aspirations. In addition to the biological and physical information gleaned since 1998, local community surveys have consistently supported the protection of shoreline aesthetics and ecosystems. But the SMP’s proposed designations reflect existing land use and did not include the other criteria.

Click here for more information and to view map books showing the proposed designations for feeder bluffs, forage fish spawning beaches and top priority salmon shorelines.

What can you do?

Contact your elected officials, and deliver the following comments:

Comment 1: The information’s valuable and already paid for. Let’s use it!

If you think we should use up-to-date information when planning for the future, contact your County Councilors and ask them to designate spawning beaches, feeder bluffs, and the most important salmon migration routes as:

Natural where the shoreline is ecologically intact; and
Conservancy where the shoreline is partially or fully developed.

Comment 2: Don’t roll back existing protections for salmon and beaches!

The current SMP uses something called split designations to protect many beaches around the San Juans. These split designations apply a more protective designation (such as conservancy or natural) between the high and low tide lines, and one that promotes greater development on the upland (such as residential). Right now, the SMP applies split designations to protect more than 15 miles of beach. But the update would collapse all of these split designations into the less protective designation that promotes more development. The result? A downgrade to the designation for 2 ½ miles of forage fish, feeder bluff, and best salmon shorelines. If you like beaches, or if you just think we should continue to restore salmon, ask our County Councilors not to roll back the split designations.

Jamie Stephens (Lopez/Shaw/Decatur) | 378-2898 |

Bob Jarman (San Juan & Stuart) | 378-2898 |

Rick Hughes (Orcas/Waldron/Blakely) | 472-0253 |

You can also submit official written comments to Colin Maycock (, the staff planner who has participated in the update since the work began in 2012. Please copy Bob Fritzen, WA Department of Ecology, with your comments (

Stay tuned for more next week. You will learn about additional proposed rollbacks to existing shoreline protections. Also, keep an eye on our website ( for a sample comment letter. If you have any questions in the meantime, please do not hesitate to contact us at 360-378-2319.

Thank you for your support,
Katie Fleming
Community Engagement Director, Friends of the San Juans

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