Alternative futures for Puget Sound


We’re starting the second phase of a scenario-planning effort to explore and understand the implications of different plausible futures for Puget Sound. The Puget Sound Future Scenarios Project (Future Scenarios) will help the Puget Sound recovery community plan for the region’s future by considering multiple possibilities of what might happen. The project is not meant to predict the future but, rather, communicate the effects of current policy choices and prepare for uncertainties like climate change or population growth.

Future Scenarios explores the interactions between driving forces (such as population growth, land use policy, climate change, and others) and how our Puget Sound recovery goals (such as human wellbeing and orca populations) might respond in these different futures.

The overarching goal of the project is to help the Partnership and the Puget Sound recovery community do the following:

  1. Explore the root causes and interactions that drive long-term Puget Sound system dynamics;
  2. Think systematically when considering choices and tradeoffs in the face of limited resources in the future.

What will the Future Scenarios project help us do?

  • Show effective aspects of current recovery strategies and enable quicker adaptive management by reviewing strategies across a range of possible contexts;
  • Describe ways to improve planning and policy-setting;
  • Provide an updated understanding of what resilience means for Puget Sound; and
  • Bridge social and natural science disciplines.
Graphic that shows the timeline for phase two of the Future Scenarios project. The text in the timeline says the following: Future Scenarios phase one began in June 2021 and was completed in June 2022 with a final report. Phase two work can be broken down into five main steps: Refine project models to better reflect salmon-related outcomes across scenarios and connect the project to salmon recovery, July – September 2022. Develop the second version of the business-as-usual scenario to understand what could happen in Puget Sound on current trajectory, Sept. – Dec. 2022. Develop the second version of the four alternative scenarios to understand what could happen in Puget Sound if the recovery strategy changes or things don't go as planned, Oct. 2022 – Jan. 2023. Share scenario outcomes and analysis with broader recovery community to gauge consequences, Jan. – March 2023. Consider how scenarios can support decision makers and capture next steps for Future Scenarios in phase two report, April – June 2023

Future Scenarios phase one takeaways

In phase one of the project (March 2021- June 2022), Future Scenarios identified four key drivers of change in Puget Sound: (1) population growth (2) climate change (3) governance (4) public perceptions and behaviors. These drivers helped build the first version of five different scenarios the Puget Sound region could experience in the future:

  • one business-as-usual (BAU) scenario that reflects the region’s current trajectories and
  • four alternative-to-BAU scenarios that reflect variations of those trajectories.

The initial scenarios and how they compare in terms of drivers are illustrated in the figure below:

Chart that illustrates differences in business-as-usual scenarios and alternative scenarios

Initial trends and outcomes from phase one include:

  • The rate of population growth seems to significantly impact scenario results, as much as or more than other factors.
  • Existing urban growth areas in Puget Sound can accommodate high population growth, provided there is a willingness to increase densities.

Future Scenarios phase two

Phase two of the project (July 2022 - June 2023) will:

  • Refine and expand the quantitative and qualitative models used to develop scenarios (with particular emphasis on salmon-related outcomes);
  • Develop a second version of the five scenarios; and
  • Consider ways Future Scenarios outcomes can support the recovery community in different contexts.

Future Scenarios advisory group

Future Scenarios is supported by an advisory group that functions as an overall sounding board for the project. This group is made up of representatives of the Puget Sound advisory boards and others in the Puget Sound recovery community. Advisory group members also serve as points of contact and ambassadors for the project. They help ensure the project is reflective of and responsive to real-world recovery challenges. Regular input from the Puget Sound advisory boards helps inform the project.

Want to learn more?

More in-depth information on Future Scenarios, including additional project background, FAQs, and the advisory group, can be found in the project’s public Box note.

If you would like to be involved in this project work, have data to share, or would like a briefing, please get in touch with one of the project leads:

Last updated: 01/18/23


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