Streams, forests, and shorelines provide communities with irreplaceable benefits
We rely on the natural environment for clean water, habitat for fish and wildlife, a livable climate, cultural value and sense of place, and countless other benefits. Ecosystems are eroding across Washington, threatening Treaty-protected resources like salmon and the health and wellbeing of communities. Local governments need approaches to manage our natural assets and the benefits they provide for current and future generations.
Natural assets are the unique elements of the environment that make up ecosystems. Natural asset management is an approach for managing our natural resources and ecosystems so they support a healthy environment and thriving communities. Local governments and partners evaluate important natural assets and the services they provide, develop plans, and take action to protect and restore natural assets.
Natural asset management draws from approaches that local governments already use to manage “gray” infrastructure–such as roads and pipes–like inventorying assets and setting “level of service” standards. For example, illustrated in the image below, just as a road could have a high or low service rating, a stream that is clean and providing quality habitat for fish is providing a higher level of service than a stream that is contaminated or degraded.
Natural assets – like streams, forests, and shorelines – provide essential ecosystem services. Ecosystem services are the benefits or contributions that nature provides to people. Many ecosystem services are declining, here in Washington and across the world. By assessing the condition of natural assets, we can better understand if ecosystem services are intact or impacted. Determining the gap between current and preferred conditions (or level of service) can help partners prioritize their natural resource investments and identify meaningful policy needs.
Local governments like cities and counties make important decisions that affect natural assets and ecosystems. However, there are often gaps in how natural assets are addressed in local planning, land use policies, and budgeting. Local governments need clear processes for managing natural assets. Leaders, including Kitsap County, are turning to natural asset management approaches as a solution.
Washington Environmental Council (WEC) is working with the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe, the Suquamish Tribe, and Kitsap County to pilot a new natural asset management program for Kitsap County. We have worked together to develop and implement a program since 2018. Collaborating with both Tribes and the county is critical to the success of this work.
Funding & Finance
Charlotte Dohrn, Puget Sound Habitat Policy Manager