The serene bog (pictured) located near Fish Lake.

by Jane Zanol and Susan Ballinger

Common Loon, photo by Tim Gallagher.

Chelan County is a beautiful place to live because it has such a variety of landscapes, everything from shrub-steppe to forested mountains. The water that flows from mountain peaks to the arid hills and plains is an important part of the special character of our county. The Columbia, Entiat, and Wenatchee rivers, and their tributaries, bring beauty, sustain fish, wildlife and human populations, and provide recreation opportunities. Lake Wenatchee and Fish Lake are accessible, special mountain lakes in our county. The combination of public ownership (greater than 50% of each lake’s shoreline), established public access sites, and private homes allow people from near and far to enjoy the magnificence of these forested mountain lakes.

In 2018, after years of working on updating the Shoreline Management Plan, Chelan County reduced the protections provided to trees and shrubs along the shorelines across the county, and significantly reduced protections along the shores of Lake Wenatchee and Fish Lake. These protections, that had been in place from 1994-2018, struck a balance and allowed people and wildlife to coexist at the lakes. Many species of birds that the state of Washington designates as Priority Species, such as the Trumpeter Swan, Common Loon, Western Grebe, Great Blue Heron, and Vaux’s Swift all regularly live or migrate through Lake Wenatchee and Fish Lake. Cavity-nesting birds such as Wood Ducks and Hooded Mergansers produce young there. Lake Wenatchee is home to endangered spring chinook, threatened steelhead, threatened bull trout, and, a favorite of local anglers, sockeye salmon. Other wildlife like western toad, river otter, and over 150 total bird species thrive here as well.

Adjacent to Fish Lake, private land borders a special floating bog that enjoys US Forest Service protection as a rare habitat.  This bog is the only site east of the Cascades where the native cranberry grows.  The 2018 SMP (Shoreline Management Plan) reduced shoreline protections at Fish Lake and challenges the bog, its rare plants, and its wildlife habitat.

Common Goldeneye and babies. Photo by Tim Gallagher.

Great Blue Heron, photo by Tim Gallagher.

There are changes at Lake Wenatchee since Chelan County reduced protections for shoreline trees and shrubs in 2018. New and larger houses have been built, and trees were cut along a swath of hillside to improve a cabin view. The reason people come to Lake Wenatchee is to enjoy and appreciate its beauty. Part of that natural beauty is the lake, the birds, and the fish that live there.  There was a balance of people and nature that may have been taken for granted. The protection of shoreline trees and shrubs is essential to maintaining that natural beauty and balance because they keep the water cooler, they filter pollutants from roads and lawns, they provide habitat, and their falling leaves provide essential nutrients for the ecological food web that supports fish and wildlife.

Salmon are an icon of the Pacific Northwest, playing an important role in our economy, culture, history, and environment. In the past 20 years, over 55 million taxpayer dollars have been spent protecting and restoring salmon habitat in Chelan County. The 2018 reduction in shoreline protections for trees and shrubs across the county is counterproductive to recovery efforts and jeopardizes the public investment made to date.

As Chelan County Commissioners again work to revise the Shoreline Management Plan in 2021, please think of the valuable, irreplaceable resource we have in our rivers and lakes. Please let our commissioners know you want to protect them—their wildlife, their water, their trees, their native plants along the shoreline. We enjoy them now. Let’s also plan to enjoy them for many generations to come.

Please consider contacting the Chelan County Commissioners about restoring the pre-2018 shoreline protections to Lake Wenatchee, Fish Lake, and rivers throughout the county. Written comments on the SMP update can be submitted by email to or at and must be received by April 17, 2021. The county is hosting a public meeting on March 24, 2021at 6 PM and will be accepting public testimony. More information on the public meeting can be found at Learn more on the NCWAS Webpage

Supporting Documents:

  • Lake Wenatchee Advocacy Opportunity: A summary, with photos, of the resources and SMP issues at Lake Wenatchee.
  • Fish Lake Advocacy Opportunity: A summary, with photos, of the resources and SMP issues at Fish Lake.
  • NCWAS 2018 Advocacy Letter: This letter was submitted to the Washington Department of Ecology as part of the public commenting period during the 2018 SMP amendment process.
  • Pre-2018 Buffer Widths: A summary of Chelan County riparian buffer requirements prior to the 2018 update.
  • Current Buffer Widths: A summary of Chelan County riparian buffer requirements after the 2018 update.
  • BERKS Consulting Report: This is a report paid for by Chelan County, detailing the buffer reductions proposed in 2018, prior to their adaption. The report contains detailed information on the law, guidance, and compares Chelan County’s proposed changes to other counties in Eastern Washington.
  • Buffer Width Summary Chart BERKS Consulting Report: A summary of buffer widths, including Chelan County pre-2018, Department of Ecology guidance, and other Eastern Washington Counties.
  • Community Development Memo to Board of County Commissioners Aug. 8, 2017, Draft Shoreline Master Program Designation Map: A memo submitted to the count commissioners summarizing requests to change shoreline designations. The memo states, “The general finding of staff is that most of the [current] designations are appropriate and reflect site conditions.
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