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SNR: A Focused Look Frequently Asked Questions

These FAQs include questions most asked. We will be adding more questions and responses regularly, so we encourage you to visit often, provide input and ask questions.

This significant natural resources (SNR) program update is a complex, technical project, involving a lot of oversight from state regulations and government agencies.

To submit comments, concerns and questions:

About SNR: A Focused Look

SNR: A Focused Look at Fish and Wildlife Habitat

As the first step in a larger process, we developed a draft Significant Natural Resources map to show areas that contain various significant natural resources. We used existing maps as a starting point in this process. We call this step the Inventory Process. See SNR: A Focused Look, Overview.

The next step is to analyze land uses that might conflict with these resources and consider whether to allow, limit or prohibit these uses. We need to consider the mapping and analysis as we start developing new and updated proposed regulations that are clear and objective as required by State Planning Goal 5 (See FAQs).

Among our project priorities was to make property owners aware of this project. We sent about 4,000 letters to people whose properties contain significant natural resource areas as per the draft map. The letters included an invitation to an Oct. 24, 2023, Community Forum. More than 300 people attended.

The most common question: What does this mean for my property?

We are in the very beginning stages of this process. Until the analysis is complete and potential new and updated regulations are drafted, we do not know for sure what impact(s) this project will have on individual properties. See SNR: A Focused Look, Timeline.

What we do know:

  • If your property has Riparian, or water-related, Habitat, it has already been flagged as an SNR area in earlier resource mapping work and is already subject to existing regulations. At this time, we believe there will be minimal changes to our regulations for these sensitive areas resulting from this project.
  • If you have a home, driveway or other building/feature on your property already, proposed changes to County development regulations are unlikely to impact:
    • The current use of those buildings or yard.
    • Your ability to sell your property.
  • Proposed new or updated regulations may change how future development is approached.

We understand that this could be stressful or confusing information and that there are a lot of unknowns. We are responding to questions received via our Property Owner Resource Tool, SNR Online Open House and the Community Forum as quickly as we can.


The draft updated map (inventory map) shows areas where natural resources may be present, but not necessarily the precise location. This mapping “flags” the area, letting us know that further information may be needed from the property owner if new development is proposed.

It is possible that updated regulations could apply to these areas and impact future development. However, we have not yet developed these updates. We don’t know if or how regulations may or may not impact properties with significant natural resource areas.

We encourage property owners to continue to visit all SNR: A Focused Look pages and to sign up to receive email updates.

Our current regulations apply to habitat areas in our existing Community Plan, natural resource maps and Metro’s riparian areas map. These are the maps and the regulations we are updating.

We haven’t yet completed the mapping updates and are just starting the process of updating regulations. Updated regulations will balance natural resource protection, the need for housing and other development and property owners’ rights.

We encourage you to follow this process and provide input on our progress.

In early 2024, we will share draft regulation updates at both in-person and online events. You will be able to share comments, concerns and questions at these events.

The Enforcement Order only affects those considering new development on properties with areas currently mapped as Wildlife Habitat. It is not directly connected with the updated mapping process.

In spring 2023, the state Land Conservation and Development Commission (LCDC) issued an enforcement order directing us to amend our natural resource regulations. The order includes a stay on certain development.

We identified Significant Natural Resources (SNRs) in unincorporated Washington County through a Goal 5 inventory process as part of the comprehensive planning done in the early 1980s.

The inventory for the urban areas is a compilation of Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) and Portland Audubon Society habitat maps and aerial photos used to identify tree canopy. Using the habitat maps, we and our environmental consultants did limited field work to refine the areas where significant habitat or other Goal 5 resources may have been present. We used the aerials to identify the contiguous tree canopy patches of 5 acres or more inside the Urban Growth Boundary (UGB).

We then shared the habitat maps at community planning meetings for study and input for the urban areas. We prepared a Goal 5 Economic, Social, Environmental, Energy (ESEE) Analysis of the impacts of conflicting uses on the resources for the natural resources that were deemed significant. Results of this Goal 5 inventory process for the urban area can be found in the Community Plan SNR maps.

For the rural area, the Washington County Board of Commissioners adopted the ODFW maps from the Habitat Protection Plan developed for the County, showing water-related resources and Big Game Habitat more generally. See Rural/Natural Resource Plan maps

Metro defines Upland Wildlife Habitat as, "areas that provide food, cover, roosting and nesting sites for an array of wildlife. Includes forests, woodland, grasslands, wetlands, rocky slopes and uplands, buttes and other features."

Statewide Planning Goal 5 (Natural Resources, Scenic and Historic Areas, and Open Spaces) is a broad statewide planning goal covering a number of resources, including significant fish and wildlife habitats. It requires local governments to identify and apply appropriate protections to Significant Natural Resource (SNR) areas. We inventoried our SNR areas in the early 1980s. Our Community Development Code Section 422 includes regulations that protect, preserve or mitigate impacts to these resources.

Natural resources identified under Statewide Planning Goal 5, including significant fish and wildlife habitats, promote a healthy environment and a natural landscape that contributes to Oregon’s livability. The state requires cities and counties to adopt programs to protect these resources for present and future generations. In Washington County, Goal 5 resources are called Significant Natural Resources (SNRs). SNRs are important because they are habitat for fish and wildlife and have scientific, scenic, ecological and educational value.

The County’s Goal 5 program includes a Significant Natural Resource (SNR) inventory, land use policies and regulations intended to protect our significant natural resources such as streams, land along waterways and wildlife habitat. Our program includes work we completed in the 1980s and additionally in the mid 2000s under Metro. Our 1980s SNR inventory identifies locally significant fish and wildlife habitats in unincorporated Washington County. See our urban Community Plan and Rural/Natural Resource Plan maps.

The SNR land use regulations are in our Community Development Code (CDC) Section 422, Significant Natural Resources. They describe the process and limitations on proposed developments in SNR areas.

Tualatin Basin Program

We worked with local cities and special districts like Clean Water Services (CWS), Tualatin Hills Park & Recreation District (THPRD) and Metro in the early 2000s to develop a habitat protection program for the Tualatin Basin. The Tualatin Basin Program includes limitations on new development and other strategies for protecting natural resources, especially water-related resources, in the County. These other strategies include County partnerships for restoration, mitigation and enhancement activities: Culvert replacements, riparian corridor restoration, tree plantings and funding programs to buy land for preservation.

Metro Nature in Neighborhood Bond measures

Voters passed these measures in 2006 and 2019. They support land purchases for open space, trails and water-quality protection in Washington, Clackamas and Multnomah counties. The bonds generated $700 million to purchase land to restore wildlife habitats and to improve and complete community parks and trails.

Our other Goal 5 elements

Our Goal 5 program also includes:

  • Educational programs promoting habitat-friendly development
  • Flexible development design standards
  • Technical assistance program
  • Other grants and incentives for identified natural resource areas