The Washington Coast

Our science projects along the coast of Washington State are helping restore wild salmon by preserving vast forests and wild rivers, conserving ocean habitat and by promoting sustainable fisheries.

Washington Coastline

Washington Marine Planner

A Decision Support Tool for Coastal Managers

The Washington Marine Planner is an online decision support tool built on a new generation of web technologies that enables coastal managers and stakeholders to interact in real-time with data, management alternatives, and each other using sophisticated, but easy-to-use mapping tools. The Washington Marine Planner was created under a cooperative agreement between The Nature Conservancy and Ecotrust to permit stakeholder participation in coastal and marine spatial planning in Washington while helping the Pacific County Marine Resource Committee include marine related issues into the county’s update of the Shoreline Master Program.

What Can this Tool Do for Me?

Washington Marine Planner was designed to meet the needs of multi-objective coastal and marine spatial planning (CMSP), which demands spatially-explicit data, meaningful public participation, transparency with regard to process and content, real-time speed and efficiency, and support for collaboration among ad-hoc groups. Currently users have the ability to summarize ecological and human-use information, conduct suitability analyses, and consider tradeoffs across management sectors using the following features:

  • The Site Design tool allows users to draw shapes and create reports that summarize the characteristics of an area.
  • Scenarios allow user to identify places that meet selected criteria based on management objectives.
  • The Tradeoff Analysis tool enables comparisons among user drawn shapes that have been scored for their suitability to multiple management objectives. It uses charts and tables to visualize potential conflicts as well as compatibilities between management objectives.

The tool is built in an open-source programming environment (called Madrona, developed by Ecotrust) so it can be customized to interface with a wide variety of data systems. This framework was also selected to provide flexibility and speed for developers to respond to the specific needs of the planning process as it unfolds. For additional information, contact Erica Simek Sloniker

Ellsworth Creek Preserve

Restoring a Low Elevation Coastal Rainforest in Southwest Washington

Ellsworth Creek is a small coastal watershed comprised of coniferous forests, a freshwater stream system, and large estuary. The watershed is located within the Sitka spruce forest zone and contains several small patches of old-growth forest. These remnants are some of the largest remaining old growth forest stands left within the Willapa Bay region of southwest Washington and contain five distinct natural forest community types. The Conservancy acquired the Ellsworth Creek Preserve to conserve and restore a highly productive and biologically diverse coastal temperate forest ecosystem in an area of the Pacific Northwest Coast that has been managed almost exclusively for timber production. Our science is helping advance forest restoration throughout the Pacific Northwest coast.

The Goals of This Project Are Working To:

  • Restore ecologically functional estuarine, freshwater, and upland forest habitats.
  • Develop and test restoration strategies.
  • Manage the preserve with exemplary stewardship that earns respect.
  • Build relationships within the local community and amongst resource management partners.
  • Export lessons learned from restoration work to other forest resource managers.

What We Are Learning from Ellsworth Creek

At Ellsworth Creek, the Conservancy is testing different ways of restoring important ecological structures and functions to young, managed forests, including cutting trees in different spatial patterns (“thinning”) and removing roads. Lessons learned from this work will be used by the Conservancy to advance forest restoration throughout the Pacific Northwest coast. Forests that have been intensively managed for timber production often differ from old-growth forests in the diversity of forest and stream habitat that they provide and their ability to filter water and regulate its flow into streams and rivers. These “young, managed” forests tend to have many uniform trees growing closely together and lack many of the “structures” (e.g., big trees, layers of shrubs and herbs, massive logs, standing dead trees, large wood in streams) that are typical of old-growth forests. Young, managed forests have many miles of roads which can spread invasive species and harm fish and other aquatic species by funneling fine sediment and toxins to streams and triggering landslides.

Data and Information to Provide Conservation Solutions

The Conservancy has conducted two years of baseline monitoring in Ellsworth Creek. These data provide a solid understanding of pre-treatment conditions that will be invaluable in understanding the efficacy of each restoration treatment. Throughout the watershed we've gathered information on ecological conditions prior to initiating restoration treatments including extensive surveys of migratory forest birds, stream-associated amphibians, benthic macroinvertebrates, stream physical habitat, and forest structure and vegetation. Ellsworth Creek baseline monitoring GIS data is now available for download on our reports and data page. Future results of the study are intended to inform restoration discussions and assist others interested in conducting forest restoration projects. For additional information, contact Erica Simek Sloniker .

The Coastal Forest Restoration Learning Network

Collaborating for Coastal Forests

Forest Learning Network

The Pacific Northwest Coastal Forest Restoration Learning Network is helping us collaborate and share the science from Ellsworth Creek Preserve. The Learning Network facilitates communication between natural resource managers and scientists to catalyze growth of practical knowledge needed to advance restoration of young, managed forest landscapes. Three key goals of the cooperative include: Promoting discussion and debate concerning specific management practices relevant to restoration, promoting the distribution of state-of-the-art knowledge concerning best management practices, and developing personal relationships between land managers and scientists to enhance collaboration. For more information, visit the Coastal Forest Restoration Learning Network workspace on ConserveOnline by visiting our Links and Resources section at the top right of this page.

Marine Gap Analysis

Determining the Status of Marine Management and Protection

Fishing Floats along the Coast

The Nature Conservancy is undertaking a gap analysis of marine conservation in Washington state and the adjacent federal waters. The purpose of this project is to determine the status of marine management and protection for marine habitats and species in Washington. Our gap analysis compliments the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Marine Protected Areas recommendations to the Washington State Legislature and we will use the results to support future planning efforts that address marine resources, including marine spatial planning.

Gap methodology was developed by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Gap Analysis Program, and the USGS provides a framework to complete a full analysis of biodiversity. Gap analyses can vary from simple exercises based on a spatial comparison of existing protected areas to complex studies that analyze species and habitat distributions. Each area in a gap analysis is assigned to a Conservation Management Status level that describes the degree that it is legally designated and explicitly managed for conservation according to published regulation, ownership and conservation management plans.

Results, Report, and Data

The marine gap analysis results are not yet publicly available.

Marine Ecoregional Assessment

Protecting Marine Species and Habitats

Pisastar Sea Star

The conservation of marine species and habitats is important for ecosystem function, resilience to oceanic and climate change, and sustainable coastal communities. On the west coast of North America, continental shelf and slope habitats are productive, rich ecosystems and prioritising areas for conserving biodiversity is increasingly relevant for marine spatial planning, alternative energy developments and ecosystem-based fisheries management.

We are conducting a spatially-explicit analysis for marine species and habitats over a 97,925 km2 ecoregion in the California Current Ecosystem, from Cape Mendocino, CA to Cape Flattery, WA, from the estuaries to the toe of the continental slope. Data for this assessment are compiled from multiple existing sources and include bathymetry, geomorphology, seafloor substrate, deepwater canyons, kelp beds, estuaries, seabird colonies, marine mammal haul-outs, corals, sponges, and commercial groundfish. We also compiled sea surface temperature and chlorophyll-a data to capture dynamic oceanographic processes such as coastal upwelling. Data are being attributed to the Minerals Management Services Outer Continental Shelf Aassessment Units using both direct and extrapolated values; AUs were left empty if no data existed for a particular species or habitat. We are using an optimization site-selection algorithm, MARXAN, to empirically derive a set of assessment units that solve for the the highest biodiversity value with the fewest anthropogenic conflicts (“costs”) at a ecoregional scale; our cost data included commercial ports, fisheries logbook information, and protected areas. With an average conservation goal of 30 percent for species and habitats, our analyses will identify priority conservation areas on continental shelf and slope in Washington, Oregon and Northern California.

Peer reviews have been conducted with regional marine experts and they have identified additional analyses that could be done in subsequent iterations of this assessment. Our analysis can inform efforts to address marine conservation across the northern portion of the California Current Ecosystem and incorporate biological data layers into multi-objective spatial planning in state and federal waters.

Report and Data

A report and data layers are not yet publicly available.



Forest Characterization within Old-Growth Refugia and Young Managed Forests in the Willapa Hills (2009)

Characterization of Biological Diversity, Structure, and Composition within Old-Growth Forest Refugia and Young Managed Forests in the Willapa Hills. Provides a description of the study area and forest stands, and gives detailed descriptions of anthropod and vegetation surveys.

Download File (6 MB)


Road Management in the Context of Watershed Restoration (2010)

This paper synthesizes information from presentations and discussions that occurred as part of a two-day workshop. The workshop was the second annual meeting of the Pacific Northwest Forest Restoration Learning Network and emphasized planning and prioritization of road management treatments, public/private/tribal partnerships, and specific strategies to improve effectiveness of road upgrading and decommissioning projects.

Download File (2 MB) Restoration of Young Forests with an Emphasis on Pre-Commercial Thinning (2008)

Notes from the first meeting of the Pacific Northwest Forest Restoration Cooperative. This report provides an introduction to the Cooperative, gives a background of forest thinning, sets goals and objectives, details the spatial context of projects within the landscape, and discusses prescription options to consider for best management practices.

Download File (1 MB)

Links and Resources


Coastal Forest Restoration Learning Network

Visit the Pacific Northwest Coastal Forest Restoration Learning Network workspace on ConserveOnline and see the latest documents from this cooperative of land managers and scientists.