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Puget Sound Partnership proposing ‘Desired Outcomes’ for ongoing ecosystem recovery

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Puget Sound Action Agenda, often referred to as Puget Sound Partnership’s blueprint for ecological recovery, continues to evolve. The next Action Agenda — scheduled to go into effect a year from now — will incorporate an expanded long-range vision for Puget Sound, complete with broad-based strategies, not just near-term actions.

“Desired Outcomes,” the first major component of the next Action Agenda, will be unveiled tomorrow (Thursday) before the Ecosystem Coordination Board, the wide-ranging, 27-member committee that advises the Leadership Council in its recovery oversight and strategic planning. A live video of the discussion can been viewed online, as described in the meeting agenda.

“Desired Outcomes are statements that describe what we intend to accomplish — the positive change we want to see in Puget Sound,” states a fact sheet describing the next Action Agenda update. The idea is that near-term actions proposed over four years should fit into a larger vision leading to “transformational change and bold progress toward Puget Sound recovery.”

The basic ecosystem-recovery guidance for the Action Agenda has always depended upon the goals spelled out in the 2007 law that established the Puget Sound Partnership:

  • Healthy water quality
  • Protected and restored habitat and abundant water
  • Thriving species and food web
  • Vibrant quality of life, and
  • Healthy human populations

One could say that desired outcomes put meat on those statutory bones. Under habitat, for example, the desired outcome is to protect existing habitat while improving degraded habitat to achieve ongoing ecological gain. On land, that would include increasing the focus on areas defined as “ecologically important,” keeping most development within urban growth areas, and maintaining low-intensity uses on so-called “working lands,” such as farms and forests.

For a more complete description of the desirable changes being discussed, check out the summary paper “Desired Recovery Outcomes.” Climate change, not explicitly mentioned in the 2007 law, has been elevated to a significant consideration.

If planners can agree on these general directions, the next step will be to develop individual strategies to improve the ecosystem in ways that improve the efficiency and reduce the ongoing costs of recovery. The final step is to identify individual actions in line with the strategies.

“We are excited to get the conversations going,” said Dan Stonington, planning manager for Puget Sound Partnership. “We’ve been through a good science-based process, drawing information from a lot of sources. We certainly want input from anybody.”

An online form has been provided to help gather opinions on the desired outcomes project.

Progress toward ecosystem recovery will still be measured with Vital Signs indicators, which were updated and expanded last year. (See also Jeff Rice blog post). Planners are calling this year a “transition year,” in which the old indicators are still being reported while new data are being compiled. The biennial State of the Sound report, scheduled for release in November, will be based largely on the previous indicators, officials say.

While the Desirable Outcomes will point arrows in the direction of progress, the Partnership has not yet begun work on new targets, which will describe how much progress needs to be made by a certain time. We’re still living with targets for the year 2020, which are out of date even if still useful. My blog post of a year ago describes the dilemma (Our Water Ways, Jan. 22).

Meanwhile, Intermediate Progress Measures are under development to track advancement or decline in the march toward Desired Outcomes, ultimately reflecting ecological conditions as measured by Vital Signs indicators. It’s a complex planning process — some say too complex — but it is all about understanding the interconnections that drive the ecosystem and the effects of various human actions.

Besides the concepts of Desired Outcomes driving Strategies and Actions (see below), we are likely to see other changes in the next Action Agenda, at least partly in response to an After-Action Review that reflects a multitude of reactions from folks reviewing the 2018-2022 Action Agenda. One idea is to improve the consideration of ongoing local, state and federal programs that help in overall ecosystem recovery. This will add an extra dimension to the short-term, grant-funded projects that have been a mainstay of past Action Agendas.

Changes to the next action agenda will follow guidance from the Leadership Council, as enunciated in the Beyond 2020 Resolution, the more recent Concept for Developing the 2022-2026 Action Agenda, and the extensive Unabridged 2022-2026 Action Agenda Concept Proposal.

In addition to tomorrow’s meeting of the Ecosystem Coordination Board, the Desired Outcomes proposal will be reviewed by the Puget Sound Salmon Recovery Council on Jan. 28, the Puget Sound Science Panel on Feb. 3, and the Leadership Council on Feb. 18, when the LC is scheduled to adopt the list of outcomes.

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