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J.E. “Sam” Ryan, CBO

5280 Northwest Drive
Bellingham, Washington 98226
Telephone: (360) 676-6907

Critical Areas Critical Areas Logo


Whatcom County’s Critical Areas (CAO) are environmentally sensitive natural resources that have been designated for protection and management in accordance with the requirements of the Growth Management Act. Protection and management of these areas is important to the preservation of ecological functions and values of our natural environment, as well as the protection of the public health, safety and welfare of our community.  

The Critical Areas Ordinance applies to geologically hazardous areas, frequently flooded areas, critical aquifer recharge areas, wetlands, and fish and wildlife habitat conservation areas. (WCC Code click on title 16.16)


CAO Program Area Background Information
Geologically Hazardous Areas Handout
Frequently Flooded Areas Code
Critical Aquifer Recharge Areas Handout
Wetlands Handout
Fish and Wildlife Habitat Conservation Handout
Conservation Program on Agricultural Lands Farm Plan Workbook

Best Available Science Record


In response to concerns regarding rapid growth occurring in the State of Washington, the Washington State Legislature passed the Growth Management Act (RCW 36.70A) in 1990. The Growth Management Act (GMA) required counties and cities to adopt comprehensive land use plans and development regulations to coordinate and manage growth and development, as well as protect the State’s natural resources and critical areas. After several years of development, study and public input, the Whatcom County Council adopted the Whatcom County Comprehensive Plan in May 1997 and the Whatcom County Critical Areas Ordinance (CAO), WCC Chapter 16.16, in October 1997. Under the provisions of the GMA, local jurisdictions must designate and manage regulated critical areas. Development activities within, or adjacent to these critical areas, are required to comply with the provisions of local critical areas ordinances.

The Whatcom County PDS Department is the primary agency responsible for implementing the Whatcom County Critical Areas Ordinance. The provisions of the CAO apply to any land use or development within an area that meets the definitions and criteria for critical areas as established in the ordinance. All land use and development permit applications submitted to Whatcom County PDS are reviewed for conformance with the provisions of the CAO.

xClick here for a pdf of slides describing Critical Areas and the recent changes.