ESA Critical Habitat for Puget Sound Steelhead

Steve Stone, Northwest Region of NOAA Fisheries

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In January 2013, NOAA Fisheries published a proposed ESA critical habitat designation for threatened Puget Sound steelhead. The areas proposed include approximately 1,880 mile (3,026 km) of freshwater and estuarine habitat in Puget Sound, including areas in the upper Elwha River that were not occupied by steelhead at the time of listing. In keeping with the ESA and agency past practice, the proposal excludes Indian lands, lands associated with approved Habitat Conservation Plans, and military lands where potential impacts on national security outweigh the benefits of designation as critical habitat. NOAA also proposed excluding all habitat areas in three watersheds (Lake Washington, Lake Sammamish, and Sammamish River watersheds) where the economic impacts were deemed to outweigh the benefits of designation. This presentation will: (1) review the ESA’s definition of critical habitat, it’s role in agency consultations, and interplay with recovery planning; (2) compare the proposal with existing critical habitat designations made in 2005 for Puget Sound Chinook and Hood Canal summer-run chum salmon; and (3) summarize the public and peer review comments received on the proposal.