Native Growth Protection Areas (NGPAs) and Critical Area Protection Areas (CAPAs)
What is a Protection Area?
A Native Growth Protection Area (NGPA), or Critical Area Protection Area (CAPA), is the Snohomish County Code designation for permanently protected property that contains a critical area, a critical area buffer or both. Critical areas include wetlands, lakes, streams, rivers, and geologically hazardous areas. Vegetated buffers around critical areas are important in preventing loss of the functions and values that these sensitive areas provide and to protect life and property. Development permitted under the Critical Area Ordinance prior to 2007 are referred to as Native Growth Protection Areas (NGPA), while development permitted under the Critical Area Ordinance after 2007 are Critical Area Protection Areas (CAPA). These apply to both multi-residence developments and single-lot developments.
The landowner(s) of the NGPA or CAPA, are responsible for protecting and preserving these critical areas and buffers. In most cases an NGPA/CAPA is part of a developed neighborhood or condominium building and it is the responsibility of the neighborhood homeowners or Homeowners Association (HOA) to manage and protect it, but these protections can also be found on single lot residences. In general, vegetation within the NGPA/CAPA cannot be disturbed. There are a few exceptions, please refer to the FAQ below.
- Why are NGPA/CAPAs Important? Why do NGPA/CAPAs exist?
Healthy and mature vegetation around critical areas provides important wildlife habitat and plays a natural and critical role in managing stormwater runoff. Some of the benefits that NGPAs/CAPAs provide include:
- Does My Neighborhood Have a NGPA/CAPA?
Your NGPA/CAPA is any land that has a stream, lake, wetland and/or a critical area buffer within it. Most NGPA/CAPA’s have signs along their perimeter. If you suspect you have an NGPA/CAPA in your neighborhood or on your property, but there are no signs, there are several documents where your NGPA/CAPA information is recorded. These documents include a development's plat map, a parcel's Critical Area Site Plan (CASP) or Official Site Plan. These documents can be searched for on the Snohomish County Auditor website. A County Watershed Steward can assist in looking up and reviewing any designated NGPA/CAPA within your plat or property.
- Is My NGPA/CAPA Healthy?
NGPA/CAPA’s typically represent a small fraction of our original natural environment and can be completely surrounded by development. Critical areas, like streams and wetlands, were once part of a vast network of natural forests and freshwater systems that covered Snohomish County. Though now a fragment of historic forests, your NGPA/CAPA can still provide highly productive and healthy habitats. Here are a few indicators of a healthy NGPA/CAPA:
- How Can I Tell If My NGPA/CAPA Is Unhealthy?
Development, deforestation and other land uses have fragmented critical areas. Changes over time can result in an unhealthy NGPA/CAPA to the point where the area no longer functions properly for the purpose of pollutant reduction or habitat protection. Although not all are a violation of Snohomish County code, the following are indicators that your NGPA/CAPA may be unhealthy:
- What Can I Do to Protect My NGPA/CAPA?
If your NGPA/CAPA has any of the “symptoms” listed in the previous section, there are many options for improving its health. There are community wide actions that can be taken to improve your NGPA/CAPA health and function. These include:
Additionally, here are easy actions you can take on your property to further protect the critical areas within your NGPA/CAPA:
- Does my property have NGPA/CAPA on it and if so where is the boundary?
NGPA/CAPAs will be recorded either through a Critical Area Site Plan (CASP) or a plat map. The CASP is developed for individual parcels, while the plat map is developed for larger planned neighborhoods. Both types of documents will record the size and location of an NGPA/CAPA. You can look up these documents online through the Snohomish County Auditor’s online database. For CASPs, you’ll need the parcel number of the property you are interested in. For plat maps you’ll need the document recording number or the name of the development. Additionally, just because there is no recorded NGPA/CAPA designated on a property that doesn’t mean there are no critical areas present on the property or in the neighborhood.
- Am I allowed to remove vegetation from an NGPA?
Clearing or removal of vegetation (trees, shrubs, etc.) is prohibited in an NGPA/CAPA without a permit issued by Planning and Development Services (PDS). There are exceptions in County Code that does allow for the removal and/or control of invasive species (blackberry, English ivy, etc.) within an NGPA/CAPA. Invasive species control must follow accepted best management practices for control of the species. Additionally, erosion must be controlled, and the areas cleared of invasive species need to be replanted with species suited for the site conditions (sun exposure, soil type, hydrology, etc.).
- What can I do about invasive species or other vegetation growing onto my property from an NGPA?
You are allowed to prune back any vegetation that crosses onto your property from an NGPA/CAPA. Shrub or invasive species can be trimmed back to the shared property line with the NGPA/CAPA. For the health of a tree, limbs should be pruned back to the trunk of tree, even if the trunk is located further back in the NGPA/CAPA.
- What is the process to have a hazardous tree removed from the NGPA/CAPA adjacent to my property?
Hazard tree(s) should be certified as such by a consulting arborist, who will provide you with a report on the tree(s) and their condition. You can submit the report to Snohomish County Planning and Development Services (PDS) for review at email@example.com. For more information please refer to the PDS Hazard Tree Assistance Bulletin.
- Who do I contact if I’ve observed a water quality issue?
Snohomish County Surface Water Management (SWM) provides a program to investigation water quality issues in unincorporated Snohomish County. If you suspect that a property, person, or business is negatively affecting water quality you can request an investigator to look into the issue. You can find more information as well as an online form to request an investigation on Snohomish County's "Report Pollution" Webpage.
- Someone is clearing/grading/filling and/or building in a NGPA/CAPA or critical area (stream, wetland, slope, etc.), what should I do?
Clearing/grading/filling or building within an NGPA/CAPA or critical area requires a permit from Planning and Development Services (PDS). Illicit activities within an NGPA/CAPA are handled by PDS Code Enforcement. You can find more information on Code Enforcement, the types of violations they handle, and other information on the PDS Code Enforcement Webpage.
- Can I build a fence through my NGPA?
In many cases building a fence through an NGPA/CAPA will require a permit due to the impacts of construction. However, these requests are evaluated case by case, so you should contact Planning and Development Services (firstname.lastname@example.org) to check if your proposal would require a permit.
Landowner Technical Assistance
Snohomish County provides a variety of resources to help landowners and HOA’s manage their NGPA/CAPA. Planning and Development Services manages NGPA/CAPA regulations, permits, and reporting. This department can be reached via their email, email@example.com.
For unincorporated areas of the county, Surface Water Management offers a variety of technical assistance for NGPA/CAPAs. Available resources include technical assistance, restoration guidance, educational workshops, print materials, and site visits customized to the needs of your NGPA/CAPA. All resources are designed to help improve water quality and wildlife habitat, and reduce other impacts such as flooding, erosion and pollution. For questions on these topics or to schedule a site visit please email our Watershed Steward at firstname.lastname@example.org