Critical Areas

Clallam County policy is to protect and conserve the environmental attributes of Clallam County that add to the quality of life for residents of both Clallam County and the State of Washington as well as avoid potential loss of life and damage of property due to landslide, subsidence, erosion, or flooding.

Critical Areas Code CCC 27.12

Critical areas include five recognized types of ecosystems. (RCW 36.70A.030)

  • Wetlands
  • Areas with critical recharging effect on aquifers used for potable water
  • Fish and wildlife habitat conservation areas
  • Frequently flooded areas
  • Geologically hazardous areas

If your project is located within 200 feet of a critical area (See Table 1 of 27.12.025), certain conditions may apply, including drainage and erosion control plans; clearing and grading plans; buffers; geotechnical reports; habitat management plans. Requirements are based on the type and classification of the critical area. Buffers are similar to building setbacks required by other county codes, the only difference being that buffers must be retained in their natural condition unless alterations are approved by Clallam County.

Critical Areas Maps are advisory only and the actual determination of critical areas may require studies prepared by qualified professionals (Consultant List (PDF)) to be submitted (27.12.050).

27.12.035 Activities not regulated by this chapter - Exemptions

New Land Disturbing Activity or Development (32)"Land disturbing activity" within Critical Areas jurisdiction requires review by Clallam County. If Clallam County has a permit to issue a review of critical areas is incorporated into the review of the permit (27.12.030), otherwise, a Critical Area Permit (Certificate of Compliance, Variance, or RUE) will be required.


Wetlands are areas that are soaked with water for long enough to support plants adapted for life in wet soil conditions. Wetlands include swamps, marshes, bogs, and similar areas. Clallam County requires special provisions to be met for any development or land-disturbing activities within 200 feet of a regulated wetland. CCC 27.12.215


ClassMajor New DevelopmentMinor New Development
Class I200 feet100 feet
Class II150 feet75 feet
Class III75 feet50 feet
Class IV50 feet25 feet

Critical Aquifer Recharge Areas

A Critical Recharge Area is one where the aquifer being recharged (with rainwater, snowmelt and other surface sources of water) is used for drinking and is susceptible to contamination that could affect the ability of the water to be safe to drink (WAC 365-190-030). Additional development standards may be required when developing the property. CCC 27.12.615

Fish and Wildlife Habitat Conservation Areas

Aquatic Habitat Conservation Areas are streams, lakes, marine waters and their associated wetlands, floodplains, and Shorelines of the State. Streams include those areas where the surface water flow is sufficient to produce a defined channel or bed, but does not have to contain water year-round. This does not include irrigation ditches, canals, storm or surface water runoff devices or other artificial watercourses unless they are used by salmon or used to convey streams naturally occurring prior to construction. CCC 27.12.315

Aquatic Habitat Conservation Area Buffers

Aquatic Habitat Conservation AreaBuffer Width for Major New Development and Land DivisionsBuffer Width for Minor New Development
Type 1 Waters – Marine, Streams and Lakes150 feetEquivalent to the setback set forth by the Shoreline Master Program, as it applies and as hereafter amended, except for the Dungeness River which shall be a minimum of seventy-five (75) feet.
Type 2 Waters150 feet65 feet
Type 3 Waters100 feet60 feet
Type 4 Waters50 feet50 feet
Type 5 Waters50 feet50 feet
  • Buffer Width for Major New Development and Land Divisions shall be measured from OHWM as specified above, and shall also extend to the outer edge of any associated frequently flooded area.
  • Buffer Width for Minor New Development shall be measured from the required measurement from the OHWM as specified above.
  • For types 4 and 5, Buffer Width for Minor New Development may be reduced down to a minimum of twenty-five (25) feet through the buffer averaging process set forth under CCC 27.12.730.

Habitats targeted for preservation by Federal, State and/or local government which provide fish and wildlife habitat benefits, such as important waterfowl areas identified by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or listed endangered, threatened and sensitive species, are considered Wildlife Habitat Conservation Areas and require protection.

Frequently Flooded Areas

Frequently flooded areas are floodways, floodplains and special flood hazard areas. Building within the floodplain requires a flood elevation certificate done by a civil engineer licensed in the State of Washington, demonstrating that the proposed development will not result in more than a one-foot increase in flood levels during the occurrence of the base flood discharge. CCC 27.12.515

Geologically Hazardous Areas

"Geologically hazardous areas" CCC 27.12.410 are areas that are not suited to the siting of commercial, residential, or industrial development consistent with public health or safety concerns because of their susceptibility to erosion, sliding, earthquake, or other geological events. This includes Landslide Hazard Areas (including channel meander hazard areas), Seismic Soils Areas, and Erosion Hazard Areas.

A minimum buffer of fifty (50) feet shall be established from the top, toe and all edges of landslide hazard areas for major or minor new developments, except as otherwise allowed by recommendation by an engineer through submittal of a geotechnical report (not to be less than 20 feet).

Some Critical Areas overlap with other county requirements, and typically require all requirements to be met. Also in addition to county requirements additional state or federal permits that may be required and are usually listed in the county permit.


Please contact the Department of Community Development at 360-417-2420 with your proposed project before submitting your application. 

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