New regional plan for conserving open space

463,000 acres at risk

A pioneering Regional Open Space Conservation Plan maps the open space network in King, Pierce, Snohomish and Kitsap counties and identifies priority actions needed to sustain open spaces for the long term.

The open space network covers about 3.03 million acres of public and private land and 339 miles of trail. The network includes six types of open space:

  • Natural lands – areas important for supporting wildlife, preserving ecosystems, and providing opportunities for recreation and experiencing nature.
  • Farmlands – lands that support agriculture and provide wildlife habitat, stormwater management and many other ecosystem benefits.
  • Working forests – resource lands that support jobs and rural economies, provide timber and other materials, and support carbon sequestration, stormwater management, drinking water, and wildlife habitat.
  • Aquatic systems – lands that support clean drinking water, mitigate flood hazards, and support healthy habitat for salmon and other aquatic life.
  • Regional trails – corridors that provide access to the region’s open spaces and connect communities and other important regional destinations.
  • Urban open space – the system of parks and green spaces that provides recreational, aesthetic, environmental, and health benefits within an accessible distance to the region’s urban residents.

Collectively, the region’s open spaces represent a significant economic asset for the region.

As of 2015, open spaces in the region provided services conservatively estimated at $11.4 to $25.2 billion each year.

Natural capital such as open space tends to appreciate over time and is self-sustaining. At a zero-discount rate, the capital value of open spaces over the next 100 years is between $1.1 and $2.7 trillion.

To ensure that these open spaces continue to support the region’s economy and quality of life and to accelerate their protection, the plan maps out the region’s open space network, identifies the parts of the network that are already protected, highlights remaining conservation needs, and presents an action plan.

About 70 percent of the regional open space network has long-term protection through public ownership and conservation easements.

Chart showing 70% of open space in long term protection, 30% other or no protection

The challenge: A strong economy in the region is accelerating growth and development, which puts pressure on the open space network.

The population of the region is expected to grow by an additional 1.8 million by 2050, creating demand for new housing and commercial areas, and increased public access to parks and open space.

The plan identifies approximately 463,000 acres of the regional open space network that are most at risk.

Chart showing loss of agricultural land in the region 1982-2012
The region has lost 60 percent of its farmland since 1950. Farms have the highest conservation need in the regional open space network.

To protect these open spaces, this plan charts strategies that the region, local jurisdictions, resource agencies, conservation nonprofits, and others can act on.

Upcoming work to develop VISION 2050 will incorporate the Regional Open Space Conservation Plan in regional planning efforts.

PSRC developed the Regional Open Space Conservation Plan with funding from the U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities’ Healthy Watershed Consortium Program. An advisory committee of representatives with expertise in natural resources, conservation and regional planning issues helped guide development of the plan.

The new plan is one of the items on the agenda for the Growth Management Policy Board's extended meeting on July 5, 10 a.m. - 1 p.m, at PSRC.

The board will also have an in-depth discussion of how housing and housing affordability issues should be addressed in VISION 2050.  See the full agenda here or watch the meeting video.