Thursday, March 1, 2012

Ask a Simple Question, Get a ... Whoa, What the?

Here's a simple question to CDPD from a citizen wondering whether buffers apply to more features than just wetlands.  Simple question, but you'd probably have to work for CDPD, one of their many consultants, or the Friends to understand the reply. Do you think they get paid by the word?
On Feb 24, 2012, at 10:09 PM, Kenneth Sinibaldi wrote:


I need verifcation on a comment I have read and would like to reference. Do State guidelines make it clear that SMP's "shall contain requirements for buffer area zones around wetlands within shoreline jurisdictions" but they contain no such mandatory requirement for "critical freshwater habitats" including larger lakes or streams or the nearshore marine area?


Ken Sinibaldi
And below is the ever so helpful response from CDPD.

Hello Mr. Sinibaldi, I think what these quotes refer to is WAC 173-26-221 General Master Program  Provisions- and it appears that these statements are true but, perhaps, need a little context.   The WAC’s provision for buffers around wetlands – below  WAC 173-26-221 2 (c)(i) D  Wetlands  states:Buffers. Master programs shall contain requirements for buffer zones around wetlands. Buffer requirements shall be adequate to ensure that wetland functions are protected and maintained in the long term. Requirements for buffer zone widths and management shall take into account the ecological functions of the wetland, the characteristics and setting of the buffer, the potential impacts associated with the adjacent land use, and other relevant factors. This rule applies to all wetlands within the SMP jurisdiction whether fresh or salt water shoreline.  Neither of the WAC sections on Critical Freshwater Habitats or Critical Saltwater Habitats repeats this explicit requirement for buffers.  WAC 173-26-221 2 (c) iii Critical Saltwater Habitats states that when considering the no net loss requirement, the County should evaluate “Establishing adequate buffer zones around these [critical saltwater habitats]areas to separate incompatible uses from the habitat areas.”  That said, WAC 173-26-221 5 Shoreline Vegetation Conservation – states that in marine and  freshwater shorelines the County is expected to have regulations to limit the diminution of the riparian land cover within the landward portion of the SMP Jurisdiction: (b) Principles. The intent of vegetation conservation is to protect and restore the ecological functions and ecosystem-wide processes performed by vegetation along shorelines. Vegetation conservation should also be undertaken to protect human safety and property, to increase the stability of river banks and coastal bluffs, to reduce the need for structural shoreline stabilization measures, to improve the visual and aesthetic qualities of the shoreline, to protect plant and animal species and their habitats, and to enhance shoreline uses.
Master programs shall include: Planning provisions that address vegetation conservation and restoration, and regulatory provisions that address conservation of vegetation; as necessary to assure no net loss of shoreline ecological functions and ecosystem-wide processes, to avoid adverse impacts to soil hydrology, and to reduce the hazard of slope failures or accelerated erosion.
Local governments should address ecological functions and ecosystem-wide processes provided by vegetation as described in WAC 173-26-201 (3)(d)(i).
Local governments may implement these objectives through a variety of measures, where consistent with Shoreline Management Act policy, including clearing and grading regulations, setback and buffer standards, critical area regulations, conditional use requirements for specific uses or areas, mitigation requirements, incentives and nonregulatory programs.
In establishing vegetation conservation regulations, local governments must use available scientific and technical information, as described in WAC 173-26-201 (2)(a). At a minimum, local governments should consult shoreline management assistance materials provided by the department and Management Recommendations for Washington's Priority Habitats, prepared by the Washington state department of fish and wildlife where applicable.
Current scientific evidence indicates that the length, width, and species composition of a shoreline vegetation community contribute substantively to the aquatic ecological functions. Likewise, the biota within the aquatic environment is essential to ecological functions of the adjacent upland vegetation. The ability of vegetated areas to provide critical ecological functions diminishes as the length and width of the vegetated area along shorelines is reduced. When shoreline vegetation is removed, the narrower the area of remaining vegetation, the greater the risk that the functions will not be performed.
In the Pacific Northwest, aquatic environments, as well as their associated upland vegetation and wetlands, provide significant habitat for a myriad of fish and wildlife species. Healthy environments for aquatic species are inseparably linked with the ecological integrity of the surrounding terrestrial ecosystem. For example, a nearly continuous corridor of mature forest characterizes the natural riparian conditions of the Pacific Northwest. Riparian corridors along marine shorelines provide many of the same functions as their freshwater counterparts. The most commonly recognized functions of the shoreline vegetation include, but are not limited to:
• Providing shade necessary to maintain the cool temperatures required by salmonids, spawning forage fish, and other aquatic biota.
• Providing organic inputs critical for aquatic life.
• Providing food in the form of various insects and other benthic macroinvertebrates.
• Stabilizing banks, minimizing erosion, and reducing the occurrence of landslides. The roots of trees and other riparian vegetation provide the bulk of this function.
• Reducing fine sediment input into the aquatic environment through storm water retention and vegetative filtering.
• Filtering and vegetative uptake of nutrients and pollutants from ground water and surface runoff.
• Providing a source of large woody debris into the aquatic system. Large woody debris is the primary structural element that functions as a hydraulic roughness element to moderate flows. Large woody debris also serves a pool-forming function, providing critical salmonid rearing and refuge habitat. Abundant large woody debris increases aquatic diversity and stabilization.
• Regulation of microclimate in the stream-riparian and intertidal corridors.
• Providing critical wildlife habitat, including migration corridors and feeding, watering, rearing, and refugia areas.
Sustaining different individual functions requires different widths, compositions and densities of vegetation. The importance of the different functions, in turn, varies with the type of shoreline setting. For example, in forested shoreline settings, periodic recruitment of fallen trees, especially conifers, into the stream channel is an important attribute, critical to natural stream channel maintenance. Therefore, vegetated areas along streams which once supported or could in the future support mature trees should be wide enough to accomplish this periodic recruitment process.
Woody vegetation normally classed as trees may not be a natural component of plant communities in some environments, such as in arid climates and on coastal dunes. In these instances, the width of a vegetated area necessary to achieve the full suite of vegetation-related shoreline functions may not be related to vegetation height.
Local governments should identify which ecological processes and functions are important to the local aquatic and terrestrial ecology and conserve sufficient vegetation to maintain them. Such vegetation conservation areas are not necessarily intended to be closed to use and development but should provide for management of vegetation in a manner adequate to assure no net loss of shoreline ecological functions.
(c) Standards. Master programs shall implement the following requirements in shoreline jurisdiction.
Establish vegetation conservation standards that implement the principles in WAC 173-26-221 (5)(b). Methods to do this may include setback or buffer requirements, clearing and grading standards, regulatory incentives, environment designation standards, or other master program provisions. Selective pruning of trees for safety and view protection may be allowed and the removal of noxious weeds should be authorized.
Additional vegetation conservation standards for specific uses are included in WAC 173-26-241(3).  I apologize for the extended quotes but I wanted to be sure that I gave you a sense of the larger picture.  Buffers are not explicitly required by the SMP for critical fresh and saltwater habitats other than wetlands, but the need to assure no net loss is, and there’s an additional requirement to protect against undue loss of shoreline vegetative cover at the shore’s edge.  I hope this helps.  Please call or write if you have additional questions.  Respectfully, Colin

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