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The Natural Environment and Climate Change

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State Context

The goal for the environment in the Growth Management Act (GMA) states “Protect the environment and enhance the state's high quality of life, including air and water quality, and the availability of water” (RCW 36.70A.020(10)). There is no specific requirement in GMA for environmental policies; however, achievement of other requirements in GMA contributes to accomplishment of this goal.

Regional Context

VISION 2050 includes two chapters, Environment and Climate Change that include goals and policies that are relevant to this chapter. The Environment chapter acknowledges that certain development patterns and practices have damaged and threaten further disruption of the region’s ecosystems. While this chapter recognizes that some impacts are irreversible, it provides guidance on how the region can curb pollution, change land use and transportation patterns, and better manage waste to protect and restore key ecological functions. VISION 2050 stresses the ecological, economic, and health benefits of preserving and restoring our natural environment and open space. Additionally, the environment chapter identifies recovery of Puget Sound as a key part of this environmental strategy. According to VISION 2050:

“Local governments play a critical role in Puget Sound recovery through actions such as protecting and restoring critical habitat, converting hardened shorelines back to more natural conditions, protecting aquifers, promoting and installing stormwater infrastructure, and upgrading sewage treatment facilities.”28

The Climate Change chapter provides policies identifying regional methods to slow and mitigate the impacts of climate change. The Climate Change goal includes a regional benchmark for greenhouse gas emissions reduction, stating:

The region substantially reduces emissions of greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change in accordance with the goals of the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency (50% below 1990 levels by 2030 and 80% below 1990 levels by 2050) and prepares for climate change impacts.

Local Context

These regional policies form the basis to develop and update countywide planning policies to facilitate coordinated countywide strategies for environmental stewardship and justice, addressing climate change, habitat, and water and air quality. The CPPs for the environment and climate change are addressed in this chapter, with two subchapters, natural environment and climate change. Other chapters, including Development Patterns and Transportation, also include policies on air and water quality and greenhouse gas emissions. Protecting and enhancing the quality of the natural environment and combating and mitigating the impacts of climate change are central to providing high quality of life for residents of Snohomish County.

The Natural Environment and Climate Change Goal

Snohomish County and local jurisdictions will act as a steward of the natural environment in an effort to protect and restore natural systems and public health and mitigate climate change. This will be achieved through natural resource and habitat conservation, water quality improvement, and air pollutant and greenhouse gas emissions reduction. Planning for the future will include addressing climate change and resilience at local and regional levels of government to protect the natural environment and meet the economic and social needs of all residents.

The Natural Environment Policies

Env-1All jurisdictions shall protect and enhance natural ecosystems through their comprehensive plans, development regulations, capital facilities programs, and management practices. Jurisdictions should work collaboratively, employing integrated and interdisciplinary approaches, to consider regional and countywide strategies and assessments, as well as best available qualitative and quantitative information, in formulating plans and regulations that are specific to their community.

Env-2The County and cities should work collaboratively to identify, designate, and protect regional open space networks and wildlife corridors both inside and outside the Urban Growth Area and across the jurisdictional boundaries. Jurisdictions should establish policies and coordinated approaches to preserve and enhance these open space networks and corridors and ensure that all residents have access to parks and open space.

Env-3The County and cities shall work collaboratively to create goals and policies intended to implement and address the needs identified in the Regional Open Space Conservation Plan.

Env-4The County and cities should identify and protect, enhance, or restore wildlife corridors and important habitat areas that support designated species of local or state significance, such as orca and salmon, and those areas that are critical for survival of endangered or threatened species.

Env-5The County and cities should work with neighboring jurisdictions and tribes to identify and protect significant open space areas, natural resources, and critical areas through appropriate local policies, regulations or other mechanisms such as public acquisition, easements, voluntary agreements, supporting the efforts of conservation organizations, and other best practices.

Env-6In recognition of the broad range of benefits from ecological systems, the County and cities should establish policies and strategies to restore – where appropriate and possible – the region’s freshwater and marine shorelines, watersheds, and estuaries to a natural condition for ecological function and value.

Env-7The County and cities should reduce and mitigate the stormwater impacts of land development and redevelopment through collaboration in watershed planning, implementation of low impact development, and other best practices.

Env-8The County and cities shall work to maintain and improve air and water quality and ensure that all residents have equitable access to clean air and water.

Env-9The County and cities should reduce the impacts of light and noise pollution upon residents, including an emphasis on reducing these impacts on vulnerable populations, through land use, development, and transportation decisions.

Env-10The County and cities should support the use of integrated pest management and other programs that work to reduce the use of toxic pesticides and other products that present a risk to the health of the environment and humans.

Env-11The County and cities should establish and/or support programs that manage and work to reduce the spread of invasive species that are harmful to natural ecological function and habitat throughout the county.

Climate Change Policies

CC-1The County and cities shall incorporate emissions reduction actions into local plans and collaborate with regional and state agencies on initiatives to ensure that air quality meets or exceeds established state and federal standards and greenhouse gas emissions are reduced in accordance with the goals of the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency. Any initiatives which exceed established state and federal standards shall be voluntary between jurisdictions and are not required by CC-1.

CC-2The County and cities should support the implementation of the state’s climate change initiatives and work toward developing a common framework to analyze climate change impacts when conducting environmental review under SEPA.

CC-3The County and cities should establish and/or support programs that work to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase energy conservation, including the retrofit of existing buildings, expansion of alternative/clean energy within the public and private sector, and the use of environmentally sustainable building techniques and materials.

CC-4The County and cities should use natural systems to reduce carbon in the atmosphere by establishing programs and policies that maintain and increase natural resources that sequester and store carbon, such as forests, vegetative cover, wetlands, farmland, and estuaries.

CC-5The County and cities should plan for climate adaptation and resilience by establishing a planning framework in local plans and coordinating regionally to identify, anticipate, prepare for, and adapt to likely impacts of climate change on natural systems, infrastructure, public health, and the economy. These efforts should identify measures to mitigate climate impacts and include a focus on minimizing these impacts upon highly impacted and vulnerable populations.

CC-6The County and cities should support the achievement of regional greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets through adoption of policies and implementation of actions including identification of emissions reduction goals in local plans and providing support for land use, transportation, and development policies that reduce vehicle miles traveled and greenhouse gas emissions from transportation.

CC-7Jurisdictions should consider rising sea level by planning for the siting of new and relocation of existing essential public facilities and hazardous industries to areas that are outside the 500-year floodplain.