The Puget Sound nearshore, like other coastal areas around the world, is being degraded at an alarming rate. One of the main causes of coastal degradation is the concentration of people along the coast. Human activity has caused significant damage to the nearshore ecosystems, both through the direct destruction
of nearshore habitat, and by transforming ecosystem functions such as sediment movement (armoring), infiltration (impervious surfaces) and nutrient regulation (sewer discharges). The implications of nearshore ecosystem degradation are great, not only to those aquatic species that reside in those waters, but for the overall ecosystem and human well-being. Salmon, a Pacific Northwest icon, is only one of nine regionally endangered or threatened species that inhabit the Puget Sound nearshore (Fresh, 2006). E. coli from human sewage and animal waste concentrates in shellfish and ends up in our food (Weiskel, 1996). The structures built along the shore to protect land properties and homes, over time, result in decreased drift sediment, reduced beach width (Griggs, 2005) and loss of habitat area (Johannessen, 2007). It is estimated that 73 percent of the original salt marshes of the Sound have been destroyed and 33 percent of its shoreline has been modified by development (Gelfenbaum, 2006).

In spite of the growing concerns for the state of nearshore ecosystems and the need for a science-based ecosystem management, there is a of lack agreement within the scientific and policy communities about whichstrategies to implement in order to restore nearshore ecosystem function (Linkov et al, 2006). There are five issues that arise when planners attempt to develop alternative restoration strategies for the Puget Sound nearshore and these issues help illustrate the difficulties involved in the planning process and thus the potential usage of scenario planning. First, the complexity of coupled human-natural systems (heterogeneity, non-linearity and emergent properties) make them highly unpredictable. Second, many of the processes underlying nearshore ecosystems are still poorly understood, further limiting the predictability of system response (Lynn, 1998). Third, restoration requires the integration of both social and natural sciences to address the interdependence between human and ecological systems across space and time (Rapport 1998). Fourth, restoration must incorporate an understanding of reflexive human decision-making and behavior into the evaluation of the strategies. And lastly, uncertainty increases the further out we look (Heijden, 1997). Scenario planning is a future assessment strategy that addresses these difficulties – it is specifically developed to integrate complexity and uncertainty into the decision making process. In this project we propose that Scenario Planning provides scientists with plausible future baseline conditions to adequately assess the implications of alternative restoration strategies.

Over the last two years the Puget Sound Nearshore Partnership’s Future Without Workgroup and the Urban Ecology Research Laboratory have undertaken a Scenario Planning process. They have engaged more than 100 experts through a series of panel discussions and a workshop in order to develop final scenarios
for the region. The scenarios in this report describe six alternative futures for the Puget Sound, ranging from economic growth and social and ecological prosperity to economic downturn and ecological collapse when critical thresholds are surpassed and regional resources become heavily strained. The scenarios focus on alternative trajectories for climate change and human perceptions and behavior, and their consequent implications for this region’s economy, demography, public health, infrastructure, knowledge base, natural hazards, governance and development patterns. Integrating scientific expertise and creative imagination, the scenarios describe plausible divergent future conditions. In a next phase of this project scenarios will be used to establish links between expected future conditions and nearshore ecosystem function.

Read more:

Puget Sound Future Scenarios Final Report

Puget Sound Nearshore Partnership / Puget Sound Nearshore Ecosystem Restoration Project

The Snohomish Basin 2060 Scenarios