Grays Harbor GRP

  • Interim update: September 2021
  • Last full updated: 2013
  • Public Comment: 

Table of Contents


Further Reading

Site Description

This section provides a description of the area’s physical features, hydrology, climate and winds, and tides and currents. An oil spill risk assessment for Grays Harbor is also provided in this section. The area covered includes shorelines of the Pacific Coast adjacent to Grays Harbor, the Grays Harbor entrance, Oyhut Sink, Grays Harbor, North Bay, South Bay, Bowerman Basin, and the rivers and creeks in the area that drain into Grays Harbor.

Physical Features

The Grays Harbor estuary is approximately 13 miles across at its widest point and narrows in some places to less than 100 yards; its entrance from the Pacific Ocean is approximately 2.5 miles wide. The estuary is a drowned portion of the Chehalis River Valley, and it is continually filled in with river-borne sediments as well as marine deposits. These build up as intertidal mud and sand flats, which make up the area’s predominant physical feature. The three corners of the estuary are defined by the mouth of the Chehalis River to the east, the North Bay, and the South Bay. The North Bay receives waters from the Humptulips River; South Bay draws from the Elk and Johns Rivers and numerous tributaries. The major islands of the estuary are Goose and Sand Islands in North Bay; Whitcomb, Grass, and Laidlaw Islands in South Bay; and Rennie Island near the mouth of the Chehalis River. Bowerman Basin is located on the western side of Hoquiam. It is sheltered from Grays Harbor by a large peninsula occupied by Bowerman Field Airport. Shorelines inside Grays Harbor consist primarily of marsh and sheltered tidal flats, while coastal shorelines along the Pacific Ocean west of Grays Harbor are mainly fine-grained sandy beaches.

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The Grays Harbor GRP area contains marine and estuarine waters that are biologically rich and sensitive. A wide range of shoreline and marine habitats, plus abundant food resources, contribute to making the area home to a broad variety of fish and wildlife. Grays Harbor supports more than 50 species of fish, numerous species of marine mammals, large populations of clams, oysters, and crabs, and more than 300 species of birds. It plays a critical role for migrating and wintering shorebirds, waterfowl, and raptors. More than a million shorebirds stop to rest and feed each spring during the migration north to the Arctic. Eelgrass beds play a crucial role in supporting hundreds of thousands of ducks and geese from mid-September through mid-May. Grays Harbor also plays a significant role in the life history of Washington’s harbor seal population. At times Grays Harbor and Willapa Bay account for almost 40% of the statewide population. The area supports a wide variety of fisheries resources including pacific salmon, pacific herring, surf smelt, and shellfish such as pacific oysters, crabs, cockle clams, eastern clams, and manila and horse clams. See Section 6 of this plan for more information on natural resources.

Land in the Grays Harbor area is predominantly rural, rural residential, or conservancy. Five state parks, a dozen boat ramps, and a hand-full of marinas are located here. Local economies are based on commercial fishing, lumber/forest products, shipping, tourism, green products, and construction (SR 520 pontoon project).


Grays Harbor is a large estuary fed by a 2,550 square mile drainage basin. Water depths throughout most of Grays Harbor are usually less than 20 feet. However, depths up to 80 feet have been measured at the mouth of the estuary. Dredging of the harbor floor provides a narrow navigation channel that can range in depth from 46 feet at the bar crossing to 32 feet as it approaches Cosmopolis. Grays Harbor has three main channels; North Channel, Middle Channel, and South Channel. Presently, the North Channel is the only one dredged for navigation; the middle and south channels remain shoaled by erosion and sediment deposits. Numerous shallow channels created by ebb tide flows and river discharges are present throughout the area.

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Net surface flow in this system is seaward. Winter storms increase the flow in rivers and streams that feed Grays Harbor, while flows decline during the summer. Seasonal freshwater input creates a range of salinity from 5 parts per thousand during the winter to 20 parts per thousand in the summer. The largest source of freshwater into Grays Harbor is from the Chehalis River. Other significant sources of freshwater into Grays Harbor from the north include all forks of the Hoquiam River, the Humptulips, and Wishkah Rivers, as well as Chenois and Grass Creeks. The major attributing freshwater sources from the south are Elk River and Johns River (and tributaries), and Andrews, Barlow, Gold, O’Leary, Stafford, and Chapin Creeks.

Near the entrance into the Grays Harbor estuary from the Pacific Ocean, less buoyant saltwater (from the ocean) flows beneath more buoyant freshwater (from the numerous rivers and streams that drain into Grays Harbor). During ebb tide, buoyant freshwater at the ocean/estuary interface expands. Coupled with high winds brought on by severe winter storms,  wave conditions near the entrance to Grays Harbor can be intense. Storms can also drive water toward the shore, where it accumulates, resulting in water levels above predicted tide levels. The low atmospheric pressure that accompanies storm events can sometimes cause the ocean to mound, raising water levels even further(Army Corps of Engineers 2003; WA Dept. of Ecology).

Portions of Water Resource Inventory Areas (WRIA) for Queets/Quinault (WRIA 21), Lower Chehalis (WRIA 22), and Willapa (WRIA 24) fall within the geographic boundaries of this plan.

Queets/Quinault (WRIA 21): The Queets/Quinault Watershed is comprised of 755,674 acres along the Pacific coast of the Olympic Peninsula. It extends from Kalaloch Creek in the north to Connor Creek in the south. The watersheds of WRIA 21 are those of the Queets, Quinault, Moclips, Raft, and Copalis Rivers, as well as numerous tributaries that flow directly into the Pacific Ocean. The Queets and Quinault Rivers are the largest flow through the Olympic Mountains and their foothills. Also within WRIA 21 is a large coastal plain through which many smaller streams and rivers flow to the Pacific Ocean. Marine shorelines in the area span approximately 65 miles.

Lower Chehalis (WRIA 22): The Lower Chehalis Watershed is the northwest portion of the Chehalis River Basin. Its waters include the Chehalis, Newaukum, Skookumchuck, Satsop, Wynoochee, and Wishkah Rivers, as well as numerous tributary creeks and streams. Within the 2,600 square miles that make up the Chehalis Basin, there are over 3,300 miles of rivers and streams. The Chehalis River starts in the Willapa Hills region near the town of Pe Ell and flows downstream through a variety of diverse eco-regions. It is bound on the west by the Pacific Ocean, on the east by the Deschutes River Basin, on the north by the Olympic Mountains, and on the south by the Willapa Hills and Cowlitz River Basin. Elevations vary from sea level at Grays Harbor to 5,054 feet in the Olympic National Forest (WA Dept. of Ecology; Chehalis Basin Partnership).

Willapa (WRIA 24): The Willapa Watershed is located along Washington’s south coast. It includes the Willapa, Johns, Elk, North, Nemah, Naselle, and Bear River drainages. The Johns and Elk Rivers are in the northern portion of WRIA 24. These rivers drain into Grays Harbor. The Bear, Nemah and Naselle subbasins are within the southern portion of WRIA 24; the Willapa River and its tributaries account for about 167,740 acres in its central portion.  The entire watershed, excluding the Johns and Elk Rivers, drains into Willapa Bay (WA Dept. of Ecology 2012; Pacific Conservation District 2006).

Climate and Winds

Summer temperatures in Grays Harbor are usually in the upper 60’s (F).  Winter lows are generally in the upper 30’s (F) to low 40’s (F).  Annual precipitation varies throughout the area from 69 inches in Hoquiam to 83 inches in Aberdeen. Precipitation usually reaches its monthly maximums in December; Hoquiam 10 inches, Aberdeen 13 inches. Annual snowfall is typically light; Hoquiam 4.8 inches, Aberdeen 6 inches (WRCC; WRCC).

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Winds in the Grays Harbor area, measured at Bowerman Field Airport in Hoquiam, blow toward the west in April through September and toward the east in October through March. In the summer months, average wind speed is 8.5 mph. During the winter months, average wind speed is 10.2 mph. December is typically the windiest month; average wind speed is 11.1 mph, blowing in an easterly direction (WRCC).

Tides and Currents

The Grays Harbor estuary experiences semidiurnal tides which move slowly inward up the estuary, causing Aberdeen to experience high tide later than the mouth of the harbor. Grays Harbor has 53 miles of intertidal lands, with tidal influences reaching as far as Montesano, 32 miles from the harbor entrance. Based on NOAA tidal data for 2010, high and low tide levels fluctuate between -2.0ft and 11.2ft at Westport, and -1.4ft and 12.1ft at Aberdeen (NOAA 2009).

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Surrounding the entrance of Grays Harbor is a shallow bar where inward-flowing ocean swells converge with outward-flowing river currents. Currents in the vicinity of the bar can occasionally be erratic. At the harbor entrance, current velocities can reach 5 knots, but the average current velocity is usually about 1.9 knots at flood tide and 2.8 knots at ebb tide. In channels through the bay, current velocities seldom exceed 3 knots (NOAA 2012).

Risk Assessment

Grays Harbor is plentiful in natural, cultural, and economic resources, all at risk of injury from oil spills. Potential risks to these resources include large commercial vessels, challenging navigation, waterfront facilities, road and rail systems, and other oil spill risks. This section briefly discusses these risks in the Grays Harbor GRP area.

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Large Commercial Vessel Traffic: Grays Harbor has experienced significant economic growth in recent years, accompanied by increased tanker and cargo transport. Vessel arrival data shows more than a 200% increase in the arrival of tankers and cargo vessels since 2006. Bulk exports are the largest commodity handled at port facilities, and are expected to increase further over the next few years; especially shipments of grain, soybeans, and other agricultural products. Roll-on-roll-off imports/exports and commercial tank ship traffic are also likely to increase. Large commercial vessels typically carry significant amounts of heavy and blended fuel oils and other petroleum products, raising the potential for sensitive resources to be impacted if an oil spill incident were to occur.

Navigation: Due to shoals and flats, the navigable channel into Grays Harbor narrows to 0.6 miles wide with a number of turns where well-judged course changes are required. A breaking bar at the entrance to Grays Harbor, coupled with strong and sometimes erratic currents, can present a navigational challenge to commercial and recreational vessels entering or leaving port. Periods of limited visibility (fog, rain, and darkness) can add to this challenge. Submerged sections of the north and south jetties at the Grays Harbor entrance extend seaward about 0.2 and 0.9 miles (respectively). Hazardous breakers can occasionally be present near these jetties, especially during periods of heavy weather.

Facilities: Two bulk liquid facilities are located in Grays Harbor near waterfront areas in Aberdeen. Annually, millions of gallons of raw and refined product (primarily biodiesel, ethanol, and methanol) are transported to or from these facilities by rail, tank truck, and ship.

Road and Rail Systems: Road, rail, and other land-based transportation systems present an oil spill risk to Grays Harbor where they run adjacent to the shoreline or cross over rivers, creeks, and ditches that drain into the harbor. Commercial truck traffic on highways and roadways can contain hundreds to thousands of gallons of fuel and oil, especially fully loaded tank trucks. Train locomotives typically hold several thousand gallons of diesel fuel plus large quantities of lube and motor oils. Loaded train tank cars can contain tens of thousands of gallons of crude oil or other petroleum products. There has been a tenfold increase in rail cars visiting Grays Harbor since 1997. The continued use of rail to transport commercial products into and out from Grays Harbor is expected to expand even more in the upcoming years.

Other Oil Spill Risks: Other potential sources that add to oil spill risks in Grays Harbor include (in general) recreational watercraft, commercial fishing vessels, and charter boats anchored in the area, operating in Grays Harbor or off-shore, or moored at local docks or marinas. Spill risks include but are not limited to boat refueling accidents, the unintentional pumping of bilges, boat fires, and the grounding of vessels during periods of heavy weather. Land-based sources of spills that might impact Grays Harbor include road run-off and the migration of spilled oil through soil, ditches, and storm drain systems.

Winter Storms: Severe storms hit Washington’s coast during the winter, bringing heavy rains, strong winds, and high waves. Coastal storm winds regularly top 40 mph. The annual peak speed of 55 mph can topple chimneys, utility lines, and trees. The entire county is vulnerable to wind storms. High winds are commonplace along the coast but not as frequently in East County. It is estimated that there is a 170% chance of an occurrence of at least one damaging wind event every year in Grays Harbor County.

Earthquakes: Grays Harbor County is particularly vulnerable to damaging earthquakes. The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that Grays Harbor County has a 40% to 50% chance of experiencing an earthquake with a magnitude of 5.0 within the next 50 years. The probability of a 7.0 magnitude is 12% to 15% during this same period. The Washington State Hazard Mitigation Plan estimates the probability of an earthquake event similar to the 2001 Nisqually earthquake, which had a noticeable impact in Grays Harbor County, is once every 35 years. A reoccurrence of an earthquake similar to the magnitude 7.1 Olympia event in 1949, the largest recorded earthquake in Washington State history, is once every 110 years. Estimates for the probability of a subduction quake are 10 to 14% over the next 50 years.

Liquefaction: Damage from an earthquake can occur to structures in areas subject to liquefaction where soil, especially sandy soils saturated with water, can liquefy or behave like a liquid during ground shaking. Of special concern are towers and tanks located on steep slopes with soils subject to liquefaction.

Tsunamis: Grays Harbor County has been vulnerable to tsunami events. There is evidence that tsunamis may have occurred along the Washington coast in the past, but there is no or little documentation describing these events. Considerable evidence suggests a large earthquake created a tsunami with wave heights of 20’ just over 300 years ago. Historical records reported tsunamis occurring along the Pacific Northwest coast at Astoria in December 1853, April 1868, and August of 1872. The 1960 Chilean Tsunami, generated by a 9.5 magnitude earthquake, resulted in small waves within Grays Harbor and two-foot waves in Tokeland. The 1964 Alaskan earthquake generated the largest tsunami waves to occur in the county to date (2.9’ at Ocean Shores) but resulted in relatively minor damage and debris deposited throughout the coastal areas of the county.

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Resources at Risk

This section provides a summary of natural, cultural, and economic resources at risk in the planning area, including those resources at risk from oils with the potential to sink or submerge.  It provides general information on habitat, fish, and wildlife resources, and locations in the area where sensitive natural resource concerns have been identified.  It offers a summary of cultural resources that include fundamental procedures for the discovery of cultural artifacts and human skeletal remains.  General information about flight restrictions, wildlife deterrence, and oiled wildlife can be found near the end of this section.  A list of economic resources in the area is provided in the appendix.

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This section is purposely broad in scope and should not be considered comprehensive. Some of the sensitive resources described in this section cannot be addressed in Response Strategies and Priorities because it is not possible to conduct effective response activities in these locations. Additional information from private organizations or federal, state, tribal, and local government agencies should also be sought during spills.

This material is presented with enough detail to give general information about the area during the first phase of a spill response. During an actual incident, more information about resources at risk will be available from the Environmental Unit in the Planning Section.

Note: specific resource concerns related to areas that already have designated protection strategies may be found in the “Resources at Risk” column of the matrix describing the individual strategies.

The information provided in this section can be used in:

  • Assisting the Environmental Unit (EU) and Operations in developing ad hoc response strategies.
  • Providing resource-at-risk “context” to responders, clean-up workers, and others during the initial phase of a spill response in the GRP area.
  • Briefing responders and incident command staff that may be unfamiliar with sensitive resource concerns in the GRP area.
  • Providing background information for personnel involved in media presentations and public outreach during a spill incident.
  • Providing information on benthic and water column species or cultural resources present to assist in planning for oils with the potential to sink or submerge.

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Natural Resources at Risk – Summary

This area contains a wide variety of aquatic, riparian, upland habitats, and nearshore marine (outer coast from Grayland to Copalis Beach and Grays Harbor Bay) areas. These habitats support many of Washington’s salmonid species as well as a complex diversity of other wildlife. In addition to those species directly at risk to oil spills, others (due to their life histories and/or behaviors) are unlikely to become directly oiled during a spill incident but may be disturbed by other operations such as cleanup, reconnaissance, or fire suppression activities. Some of the bird species are resident throughout the year, but many others seasonally migrate through this area.

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Portions of the estuary are under active commercial shellfish aquaculture (primarily oysters). While much of tidelands are privately owned, commercial shellfish beds provide much the same habitat benefits to native fish and shellfish as do natural beds.

Several of the species found in this area have been classified under the Federal Endangered Species Act or by the Washington State Fish and Wildlife Commission.

Classification types are:

  • Federal Endangered (FE)
  • Federal Threatened (FT)
  • Federal Candidate (FC)
  • State Endangered (SE)
  • State Threatened (ST)
  • State Sensitive (SS)

Federal and State listed species that may occur within this area include:


  • American white pelican [ST]
  • common loon [SS]
  • marbled murrelet [FT/SE]
  • northern spotted owl [FT/SE]
  • sandhill crane [SE]
  • short-tailed albatross [FE]
  • steaked horned lark [FT/SE]
  • tufted puffin [SE]
  • western snowy plover [FT/SE]
  • yellow billed cuckoo [FT/SE]


  • blue whale [FE/SE]
  • fin whale [FE/SE]
  • fisher [FC/SE]
  • gray whale (eastern north Pacific) [SS]
  • gray whale (western North Pacific) [FE/SS]
  • humpback whale (Central American population) [FE/SE]
  • humpback whale (Mexican population) [FT/SE]
  • killer whale (southern resident) [FE/SE]
  • right whale (north Pacific) [FE/SE]
  • sei whale [FE/SE]
  • sperm whale [FE/SE]


  • bull trout [FT]
  • eulachon [FT]
  • green sturgeon [FT]
  • Olympic mudminnow [SS]


  • green sea turtle [FT/ST]
  • leatherback sea turtle [FE/SE]
  • loggerhead sea turtle [FE/SE]


  • Oregon silverspot butterfly [FT/SE]


Critical habitats:

These are the specific areas, occupied by an endangered or threatened species at the time it was listed, that contain the physical or biological features that are essential to the conservation of that species – and that may need special management or protection. Critical habitat may also include areas that were not occupied by the species at the time of listing but are essential to its conservation.

The following species have federally designated critical habitats within this area:

  • bull trout
  • green sturgeon
  • leatherback sea turtle
  • western snowy plover
  • streaked horned lark
  • humpback whale (Central American population)
  • humpback whale (Mexican population)


General Resource Concerns


    • A large portion of the bay is composed of intertidal and shallow subtidal mud/sand flats. These habitats are rich in benthic organisms, creating important foraging areas for salmon and other fishes, crabs, and shorebirds.
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  • Extensive eelgrass beds in the bay serve as important nursery and foraging areas for crab, salmonids, other fishes, and waterfowl.
  • Oyster beds/reefs and surface deposits of shell fragments from oysters and soft-shell clams support high densities of crabs, epibenthic invertebrates and fishes.
  • Extensive areas of salt marsh occur throughout the bay, predominantly in association with stream and river mouths. Salt marshes support a diverse array of birds, insect and fish and wildlife species.
  • Several rivers and smaller tributary streams flow into this estuary. These act as important salmon migration routes and spawning areas, as well as providing rearing habitat for juvenile salmonids. The associated riparian scrub and woodlands play a crucial role in supporting a large diversity and abundance of songbird species as breeding, migrating, and overwintering habitat.
  • Offshore waters (between the 20 m and 200 m isobaths) of the region seasonally support extremely large numbers of seabirds. These waters are important to marine fish and support both resident and migrating marine mammals. Regional and localized oceanographic conditions can greatly influence the temporal distribution and abundance of these resources.
  • Sand beaches, the primary habitat type along the south coast, provide habitat for razor clams, as well as for the vast numbers of shorebirds that stop over to feed and rest on the outer coast and its estuaries during the spring and fall migrations.
  • The subtidal habitats in this area consist primarily of:
    • Soft sediments, such as clay, mud, sand, and gravel. These areas are broad flat and relatively level. Animals that tend to live on the surface of these habitats may include sea cucumber, sea stars, crustaceans (such as crab and shrimp), and bottom fish such as skate, cod, and the flat fishes. These soft sediment habitats also support shellfish and other invertebrates including bivalves, worms, brittle stars, shrimplike crustaceans. The burrowing or foraging activities of these animals may penetrate up to one meter below the subsurface bottom.
    • Nutrient rich nearshore waters (from the shoreline out to the 20 m isobath) sustain a highly productive food web that includes fish, seabirds and marine mammals. These areas also serve as habitat for wide-ranging fish such as salmon, forage fish (herring, smelt, and sandlance), sharks, and a large number and variety of birds that utilize this habitat as foraging areas. These waters also support both resident and migrating marine mammals. Regional and localized oceanographic conditions can greatly influence the distribution and abundance of all these resources.

    Fish and shellfish:

    • The estuary is an important nursery and foraging area for juvenile salmonids including stocks of coastal cutthroat trout; winter and summer steelhead; fall, spring, and summer chinook; fall chum and coho.
    • Herring spawning occurs within eelgrass beds at several locations within the estuary
    • The estuary provides important habitat for several marine fishes, including juvenile English sole and lingcod, white and green sturgeon, and starry flounder.
    • The estuary is a major nursery area for juvenile stages of Dungeness crab Crabs that rear in this bay contribute significantly to the adult population along the outer coast and to the coastal crab fishery.
    • Portions of the estuary are under active commercial shellfish culture. While much of tidelands and oysters are privately owned, commercial oyster beds provide much the same habitat benefits to native fish and shellfish as do natural beds.
    • Other shellfish occur throughout this area. Razor clams occur along the outer sand beaches and along the entrance to the bay. Eastern softshell clams, horse clams, Manila clams and cockles are found at various locations throughout the bay


    • Grays Harbor is a shorebird site of world significance, supporting up to 1 million birds during the spring migration, as well as large numbers of fall-migrating and wintering shorebirds. The Oyhut/Damon Point area is one of only 3 nesting areas in Washington for the listed western snowy plover.
    • Concentrations of brown pelicans feed and roost in the bay from mid-to-late summer. The state-listed American white pelican may also be found in the area.
    • Waterfowl concentrations occur from fall through spring, especially in North
    • The waters at the entrance to Grays Harbor are a regular feeding area for migrating and resident seabirds and marine waterfowl. The South jetty is a favorite roosting site for many species of marine birds and those shorebirds that rely on rocky habitats.
    • Bald eagles nest throughout the region and forage throughout the bay and peregrine falcons are common during peak shorebird abundance in spring.
    • Resident and migratory songbirds heavily utilize riparian habitats year-round and are susceptible to response activities in riparian vegetation, as well as oiling or oil ingestion if riparian vegetation and shorelines become contaminated.
    • Grays Harbor is home to thousands of harbor seals from mid-spring through early fall and is one of the largest seal pupping areas in the state. Pupping occurs throughout the bay with concentrations around Sand Island and within North Bay.
    • Various species of whales and dolphins regularly occur in this region’s nearshore zone. The entire U.S. population of gray whales migrates through Washington waters in the spring and fall, with many animals stopping to feed in shallow coastal waters during the northward migration in spring. Some individuals will typically leave the main migration and inhabit Washington’s nearshore waters throughout the summer. Humpback whales [FE] are coastal residents during the summer months, tending to concentrate in feeding areas offshore of Washington’s north coast. Killer whales (Orca) sighted off the outer coast are most commonly transient or offshore pods, but southern resident killer whale [FE] pods may also be seen in the area. Harbor porpoise are common year-round and may be found from the surf zone out to several miles offshore. Both minke whales and Dall’s porpoise occasionally occur in nearshore waters. Numerous other species of whales or dolphins occur further offshore

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Specific Geographic Areas of Concern – Overview

      1. North Bay: Waterfowl and shorebird concentrations. Extensive eelgrass beds. Major harbor seal pupping area.
      2. Bowerman Basin: This basin comprises the majority of the Grays Harbor National Wildlife Refuge, which provides critical feeding habitat for both migrating and overwintering shorebirds.
      3. Johns River: Saltmarsh habitat. Waterfowl and shorebird concentrations. Salmon. WDFW Wildlife Area.
      4. South Bay (Elk River estuary): Concentrations of waterfowl and shorebirds from fall through spring. Herring spawning area. Saltmarsh and eelgrass habitats. State Park (Bottle Beach).
      5. Mouth of Grays Harbor: Significant concentration area for feeding seabirds. Migrating gray whales frequently feed just inside the entrance to the bay. Jetties are heavily used as roosting areas for pelicans, other seabirds, and some species of shorebirds.
      6. Oyhut/Damon Point: Snowy plover nesting area. Concentration area for waterfowl and shorebirds. Saltmarsh habitat. WDFW Wildlife Area (Oyhut).


Specific Geographic Areas of Concern – Map

Figure 1: Specific Geographic Areas of Concern for Grays Harbor GRP.

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Cultural Resources at Risk – Summary

Culturally significant resources are present within the planning area.  Information regarding the type and location of cultural resources is maintained by the Washington Department of Archeology and Historic Preservation (WDAHP).  This sensitive information is made available to the Washington Department of Ecology for oil spill preparedness and response planning.  The Tribal Historic Preservation Offices (THPOs) or Cultural Resource Departments of local tribes (see Table 1) may also be able to provide information on cultural resources at risk in the area and should be contacted, along with WDAHP, through normal trustee notification processes when significant oil spills, or smaller spills above reportable thresholds, occur in the area.

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During a spill response, after the Unified Command is established, information related to specific archeological concerns will be coordinated through the Environmental Unit.  In order to ensure that tactical response strategies do not inadvertently harm culturally sensitive sites, WDAHP should be consulted before disturbing any soil or sediment during a response action, including submerged soils or sediments.  WDAHP and/or the Tribal governments may assign a person, or provide a list of professional archeologists that can be contracted, to monitor response activities and cleanup operations for the protection of cultural resources at risk.  Due to the sensitive nature of such information, details regarding the location and type of cultural resources present are not included in this document.

Table 1: GH GRP Cultural Resource Contacts

Contact Phone Email
Washington Department of Archeology and Historic Preservation (WDAHP) 360- 586-3080
Chehalis Confederated Tribes 360‐709‐1747
Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde 503‐879‐2084503‐879‐2226
Hoh Indian Tribe 208-686-1572
Makah Nation 360‐645‐2711
Quileute Nation 360‐374‐6163
Quinault Indian Nation 360‐276‐8215 x 520
Shoalwater Bay Tribe 360‐267‐0731360‐267‐8184 edavis@shoalwaterbay‐

Discovery of Human Skeletal Remains

Any human remains, burial sites, or burial-related materials that are discovered during a spill response must be treated with respect at all times (photographing human remains is prohibited to all except the appropriate authorities).  Refer to the National Historic Preservation Act Compliance Guidelines (NWACP Section 9403) during an emergency response.

Procedures for the Discovery of Cultural Resources

If any person monitoring work activities or involved in spill response believes that they have encountered cultural resources, all workers must stop immediately and notify the Unified Command and Cultural Resource Specialist.  The area of work stoppage must be adequate to provide for the security, protection, and integrity of the material or artifact(s) discovered.

Examples of Prehistoric Cultural Resources:

  • Lithic debitage (stone chips and other tool-making byproducts)
  • Flaked or ground stone tools
  • Exotic rock, minerals, or quarries
  • Concentrations of organically stained sediments, charcoal, or ash
  • Fire-modified rock
  • Rock alignments or rock structures
  • Bone (burned, modified, or in association with other bone, artifacts, or features)
  • Shell or shell fragments
  • Petroglyphs and pictographs
  • Fish weirs, fish traps, and prehistoric water craft
  • Culturally modified trees
  • Physical locations or features (traditional cultural properties)
  • Submerged villages sites or artifacts

Historic cultural material over 50 years old:

  • Bottles, or other glass
  • Cans
  • Ceramics
  • Milled wood, brick, concrete, metal, or other building material
  • Trash dumps
  • Homesteads, building remains
  • Logging, mining, or railroad features
  • Piers, wharves, docks, bridges, dams, or shipwrecks
  • Shipwrecks or other submerged historical objects

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Economic Resources at Risk – Summary

Socio-economic sensitive resources are facilities or locations that rely on a body of water to be economically viable.  Because of their location, they could be severely impacted if an oil spill were to occur.  Economically sensitive resources are separated into three categories: critical infrastructure, water dependent commercial areas, and water dependent recreation areas.  The appendix provides a list of economic resources for this GRP area.

Commercial shellfish aquaculture operations provide important local jobs and significantly contribute to local the economy. Commercial, tribal, and recreational fisheries (targeting species such as salmon, crab, and razor clams) are also important to local economies.

General Information

Flight Restriction Zones: Flight restriction zones may be recommended by the Environmental Unit (Planning Section), in consultation with the Wildlife Branch, for the purpose of reducing disturbances that could result in injury to wildlife during an oil spill.  By keeping a safe distance or altitude from identified sensitive areas, pilots/operators can lessen the risk of aircraft/bird collisions, prevent the accidental hazing of wildlife into oiled areas, and avoid causing the abandonment of nests.

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Implementation of Flight Restriction Zones will take place within the Air Operations Branch (Operations Section) after the Unified Command is formed.  The Planning Section’s Environmental Unit will work with the Air Ops Branch Director to resolve any potential conflicts with flight activities that are essential to the spill response effort.  Typically, the area within a 1,500-foot radius and below 1,000 feet in altitude is restricted to flying in areas that have been identified as sensitive; however, some areas have more restrictive zones.  In addition to restrictions associated with wildlife, Tribal authorities may also request notification when overflights are likely to affect culturally sensitive areas within reservations.  See Oil Spill Best Management Practices (NWACP Section 9301) for more information on the use of aircraft and helicopters in open water and shoreline responses.

Wildlife Deterrence: The Wildlife Branch (Operations Section), in consultation with the appropriate trustee agencies and the Environmental Unit, will evaluate wildlife deterrent options for the purpose of keeping wildlife away from oil and cleanup operations and will manage any such activities during a response.  Deterrence options might include the use of acoustic or visual deterrent devices, boats, aircraft or other situation-appropriate tools.  For more information see the Northwest Wildlife Response Plan (NWACP Section 9310) and Northwest Area Wildlife Deterrence Resources (NWACP Section 9311).

Oiled Wildlife: Attempting to capture oiled wildlife can be hazardous to both personnel and the affected animals.  Response personnel should not approach or attempt to recover oiled wildlife.  Responders should report their observations of oiled wildlife to the Wildlife Branch so appropriate action can be taken.  Information provided should include the location, date, and time of the sighting, and the estimated number and kind of animals observed.  Early on in the response, before a Unified Command is established, oiled wildlife sightings should be reported to Washington Emergency Management Division.  For more information see the Northwest Wildlife Response Plan (NWACP Section 9310).

Wilderness Areas and Wildlife Refuges: There are no federally designated wilderness areas present in this GRP region. The USWFS manages the Grays Harbor National Wildlife Refuge, located along the northeastern shore of the bay.

Aquatic Invasive Species: The waters of this region are known to contain aquatic invasive species (AIS), species of plants and animals that are not native to an area and that can be harmful to an area’s ecosystem. Preventative actions may be required to prevent the spread of these species as a result of spill response activities and the Environmental Unit is able to recommend operational techniques and strategies to assist with this.