See the summary for ocean and coastal management in Washington State.
Washington State Program
Washington State, USA
The only known example in the United States of an official conservation leasing program for areas lying below the high tide line of the coast is in Washington State. While other states may lease state submerged lands for conservation activities, a formally structured program specifically intended for such purposes (other than Washington State's) has not been found. The Washington State Conservation Leasing Program can serve as an example for other states when considering the development of similar programs.
Washington's Conservation Leasing Program allows private and public entities to lease or license state-owned aquatic land for conservation purposes. Initiated in 2004 by the Washington Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) Aquatic Resources Program, the Conservation Leasing Program is one of the most comprehensive attempts by a U.S. state to make leasing of public lands a readily available tool for conservation purposes. The Nature Conservancy’s Woodard Bay Conservation Lease, signed in 2005, was the first lease issued under the program.
WDNR manages 2.4 million acres of state-owned aquatic lands and has granted approximately 3,700 leases for various uses of the lands. In 2000, a citizen asked the WDNR if he could acquire a habitat preservation lease at a site that, at the time, was being leased for a finfish net pen operation. While this new type of request was not approved, some WDNR staff were intrigued with the idea. As a result, starting in 2002 WDNR teamed up with The Nature Conservancy to develop the conservation leasing program. Although it was determined early in the process that conservation leasing was within WDNR’s statutory authority, many WDNR staff questioned whether there would be a continuing demand for conservation leases. Staff were also uncertain whether leasing to outside groups was the best way to fulfill the department’s environmental protection mandate. This latter concern was addressed by requiring applicants to demonstrate expertise and funding capacity, and to submit a conservation plan for WDNR approval. WDNR staff developed internal policy guidance, and TNC assisted in training WDNR staff in the new program. As of August 2007, one lease and one license had been approved.
State-owned aquatic lands include approximately 30% of the state’s tidelands (tidally influenced shoreline) in the Puget Sound, 100% of marine bedlands within Puget Sound and the outer coast (extending seaward three nautical miles), as well as extensive freshwater lands. WDNR encourages conservation projects that improve habitat, connect to conservation activities on adjacent uplands, and restore or enhance ecosystem function.
While an effort to restore seagrass beds would likely require a long-term lease, a one-time removal of wood waste from intertidal land could be done under a license. Leases are used for continuous or long-term projects, and provide that habitat improvements made to the site will not be disturbed by other WDNR authorized uses. Leases are available for terms up to 55 years, depending on the project and the class of land where the lease is located. Licenses are used for projects lasting less than one year, or that require only sporadic activity for up to 5 years; they provide no future protection for the habitat improvement. Fees are calculated under existing policies for other water-dependent uses.
Proponents of conservation projects begin the process by submitting an informal proposal to the WDNR. The proposal must include a statement of project goals and objectives and a measurable definition of success. WDNR staff assess the project in relation to WDNR's conservation priorities, the site’s condition, the likelihood of success, consistency with other land use plans, and potential conflicts with existing and future commercial uses. If approved, WDNR region staff specifies to the proponent any needed changes, along with terms and conditions. The proponent then makes a formal application for a proprietary use authorization (a lease or license) from WDNR and any necessary regulatory permits from local, state, or federal agencies.
|Lease area||10 acres|
|Resource||State-owned aquatic lands. 2.4 million acres fresh and salt.|
|Dates/duration||Leases up to 55 yrs. Licenses up to 5 yrs.|
|Price/fee||Same rates as other water-dependent uses|
|Use||Habitat restoration, enhancement, preservation, or creation|
|Grantor(s)||Washington State Department of Natural Resources|
|Grantee(s)||Private and public entities|
- It is possible for conservation proponents to compete fairly under statutory guidance with non-conservation project proponents.
- Internal WDNR resistance to the idea of conservation leasing was addressed by creating a rigorous application, planning, and review process. This process is in a number of ways stricter than the review process applied to traditional commercial leases.
- Ongoing demand for conservation leases and licenses is uncertain.
- For the program to succeed, conservation organizations must make the investment to take lead roles in managing aquatic lands.
Costs to develop the program were not recorded. Several DNR staff were involved in program development activities over a 2-3 year period.
Project proponents may be public or private entities and must demonstrate the financial capacity to complete the project. WDNR requires that proponents specify a site manager with the education and experience for aquatic natural resource management.
Washington State Department of Natural Resources
Aquatic Resources Program
Conservation Leasing Program
P.O. Box 47001, Olympia, WA 98504-7001
Washington State Department of Natural Resources (see above)
Links to the following documents are on the WDNR Conservation Leasing web page.
- Guidelines for Authorizing Voluntary Conservation Activities on State-Owned Aquatic Lands (download .pdf, 98kb)
- Lease License Application
- Lease Document (blank sample)
- License Document (blank sample)
- Conservation Plan (suggested format)
- Crevar, A., 2005. Getting to the bottom of marine conservation. Nature Conservancy, Spring 2005: pgs 20-29. (Web version)
- Goss, H. 2005. Protecting the bottom line: Leasing Washington’s submerged lands for conservation. Coastal Services 8(6): 4-6, 9. NOAA/CSC/20506-PUB. (download .pdf, 1,660k)
- Udelhoven, J. and M.P. Barrette. 2005. Washington Case Study: Conservation Leasing on State-Owned Aquatic Lands in Washington State. Chapter 3. In Beck, M.W., K.M. Fletcher, and L.Z. Hale. 2005. Towards Conservation of Submerged Lands: The Law and Policy of Conservation Leasing and Ownership. Rhode Island Sea Grant, Narragansett, RI. pp. 17-29. (download .pdf, 2,390k)
- Udelhoven, J., J. White, and B. Lyons. 2005. Conservation Leasing in Washington State—Partnerships for Improving and Protecting State-owned Aquatic Lands. Proceedings of the 2005 Puget Sound Georgia Basin Research Conference. (download pdf, 140k)