NGPA/CAPA Frequently Asked Questions
- Why are NGPA/CAPAs important?
Snohomish County’s Critical Areas Regulations are designed to protect the many functions, values, and benefits provided by critical areas and their buffers. Critical areas protected by these regulations include:
- Wetlands and Fish & Wildlife Habitat Conservation Areas (Including Streams)
- Geologically Hazardous Areas
- Aquifer Recharge Areas
- Special Flood Hazard Areas
NGPA/CAPA designations, which are established when properties on or near critical areas or their buffers are developed, are an important tool for ensuring the protection of these benefits. Healthy and mature vegetation in and around these areas provides important wildlife habitat and plays a natural and critical role in managing the potentially harmful effects of stormwater runoff. Benefits provided by NGPAs/CAPAs include:
- Reduced amounts of polluted stormwater runoff in our streams, lakes and wetlands
- Improved flood capacity and reduced soil erosion
- Protection of habitat for fish and wildlife
- Protection of property and public safety
- Does my property or neighborhood have an NGPA/CAPA?
NGPA/CAPAs are recorded on either a Critical Area Site Plan (CASP) or a Plat Map. A CASP is recorded when development is proposed on individual parcels, while a Plat Map is recorded when the proposed development is a larger community or neighborhood.
Both CASPs and Plat Maps will record the size and location of an NGPA/CAPA. These documents can be found on the Snohomish County Auditor’s online database.
- Finding a CASP: Search the database by the parcel number of the property.
- Finding a Plat Map: Search the database by either the document recording number or the name of the development.
It is important to note that just because there is no recorded NGPA/CAPA designated on a property that does not necessarily mean that there are no critical areas on or near the property or neighborhood.
- Who is responsible for the management of the NGPA/CAPA?
The landowner(s) of the NGPA/CAPA hold the responsibility for protecting, preserving, and maintaining these areas. While these areas are protected through the process of permitting development through the County, they are not owned by, or the responsibility of, the County.
In many cases, NGPA/CAPAs are part of a neighborhood development and it is the responsibility of the neighborhood homeowners or Homeowners Association (HOA) to manage and protect it. However, these protections can also be found on single lot residences, in which case they are the responsibility of the individual lot owner.
However, the County does provide resources to help communities or individual lot owners to manage their NGPA/CAPAs! If you are interested in improving the health of your NGPA/CAPA, request a free site visit with a Watershed Steward!
- How can I obtain signs for my NGPA/CAPA?
While the County does not supply NGPA/CAPA signs, you can work with a local sign shop to produce new or replacement signs for your NGPA/CAPA. Below are several files to assist with this, including sign specifications, installation guidelines, and artwork files that a sign shop can use to produce new signs.
All of the files below use the term ‘Critical Area Protection Area’ rather than ‘Native Growth Protection Area,’ as this is the current terminology. Replacement signs for areas previously designated as NGPA may use the updated CAPA designation.
- Can I remove vegetation from an NGPA/CAPA?
In almost all cases, clearing or removal of vegetation (trees, shrubs, etc.) is prohibited in an NGPA/CAPA without a permit issued by Planning and Development Services (PDS). These areas, and the vegetation within them, are protected to ensure that the natural functions and values of the critical areas and buffers on-site are protected.
However, there are key exceptions in County Code that do allow for vegetation removal and/or control in certain cases, including:
- Treatment of Invasive Species. Invasive species control must follow accepted best management practices for control of the species. Erosion must be controlled when disturbing the ground, and the areas cleared of invasive species need to be replanted with species suited for the site conditions (sun exposure, soil type, hydrology, etc.). For site-specific recommendations on managing invasive species in your NGPA/CAPA, request a free site visit with a Watershed Steward!
- Removal of Hazardous Trees. See FAQ entry on hazardous trees below for more information.
- Control of Vegetation Crossing Over NGPA Boundaries. You are allowed to prune back any vegetation that crosses onto your property from an NGPA/CAPA. Shrubs or invasive species can be trimmed back to the shared property line with the NGPA/CAPA. To preserve the health of trees, limbs that are crossing property boundaries should be pruned back to the trunk of tree, even if the trunk is located further back in the NGPA/CAPA.
- Can I remove hazardous trees from an NGPA/CAPA?
Hazardous trees that meet the definition established in Snohomish County Code 30.91H.040 do not require a permit to remove even if they are located within a critical area or NGPA/CAPA. This definition establishes a hazardous tree as one with significant damage, decay, or death with the potential to impact public safety or property. County Code also states that conversion to habitat trees is preferred to removal, however, in residential areas that is not always a viable option. Removed trees should also be replaced at a 3:1 ratio with native species, as feasible.
To determine if a tree meets this definition an assessment should be performed by a qualified Arborist with a Tree Risk Assessment Qualification who can choose to write and submit a report to Monica Szarvas (email@example.com), Biologist and Arborist with Snohomish County Planning & Development Services (PDS). Alternatively, residents can send photos directly to Monica, who may be able to assess electronically and provide approval.
Any non-hazard tree clearing within a critical area or clearing of 7,000 or more square feet requires a Land Disturbing Activity (LDA) Permit. Additionally, the removal of 5,000 or more board feet may require a Forest Practice Permit.
- Can I build a fence through my NGPA/CAPA?
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 (PDS) to check if your specific proposal would require a permit. You can contact PDS through any of the following:
- Who can I contact about a potential NGPA/CAPA violation?
NGPA/CAPAs and critical areas are protected from clearing, grading, filling, and development. These activities are not allowed without a permit from Snohomish County Planning & Development Services (PDS).
Potential violations of these protections are investigated and enforced by PDS Code Enforcement. If you suspect that these protections have been violated, review the information on the Code Enforcement page, and consider contacting Code Enforcement through one of the following:
- Who can I contact about a pollution or 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 may report pollution to the County, which helps officials investigate potential pollution issues.
More information about how to report potential pollution can be found on SWM’s Report Pollution page.