Land use

Find guidance on how to evaluate impacts on land use and comply with land use related polices like Section 4(f), Section 6(f), Farmland, Growth Management Act & Critical Area Ordinances, Land use, and Wild & Scenic Rivers.

Identify existing land use

National forests

Check our GIS workbench Political and Administrative Boundaries>Major Public Lands for forests layer and the US Forest Service’s (USFS) Pacific Northwest Forest Areas website to determine if your project is within a national forest. If your work takes place outside of our right of way and within the boundaries of a national forest, contact the USFS ranger station for the forest you are working in to determine if you need to apply for a Special Use Permit during final design.

State forest & trust lands

If your work requires harvesting timber or salvaging logs, stumps, or snags on state forest or trust lands on private forest lands or within WSDOT right-of-way, your project may need a Forest Practices permit.  Contact the DNR regional office to determine if your project needs a Forest Practices application/notification during final design.

State waters

You may need an Aquatic Use Authorization from DNR for in water or overwater work on state-owned aquatic lands. Some activities may be covered by an existing easement agreement with DNR that allows for maintenance work such as hanging bridge stringers. Coordinate with your region’s Real Estate Services Office to see if you need to apply for an Aquatic Use Authorization during final design.

For work in waters of the State, also see Wetlands & other waters.

Section 4(f) - Publicly owned parks, recreational areas, and refuges

For projects where a transportation agency is the federal lead, check land use maps and our GIS workbench to identify publicly owned parks and recreational areas open to the public and wildlife and waterfowl refuges protected under Section 4(f) of the US Department of Transportation Act.

Section 4(f) also protects historic sites. Use the Cultural resources & archaeology webpage to identify historic sites in or near the project area.

Use the FHWA Section 4(f) Tutorial and Section 4(f) Policy Paper for background, fundamental definitions and requirements of Section 4(f). Identify the Section 4(f) properties in the project study areas.

Review the list of Other Considerations to identify properties that do not fit neatly into the Section 4(f) definition.

Use the Describing a Section 4(f) property guidance (DOCX 17KB) to document the location and attributes of the properties.

Section 6(f) and other grant funded properties

Visit the Washington State Recreation and Conservation Office (RCO) Project Search webpage to determine if your project will impact a property that has or will use RCO grant funds. Click on “Theme or Fund Source” and check all options in the list to display past, current and present RCO grant funded projects. If it will, coordinate with the RCO or NPS and refer to RCO Manual 7 (PDF 255KB) for policies and procedures.

Parcels purchased with Land and Water Conservation Fund Act (LWCF) funds require additional work to convert the land to a transportation use.


Consult the WSDOT GIS Environmental Workbench farmland soils layer or county or local GIS data to determine if land designated as 'prime', 'unique', or 'of state or local significance' will be impacted by your project. If your project or mitigation site will impact areas with any of these farmland soil types, notify Lucy Temple, as soon as possible.

Lands that are exempt from the FPPA requirements include: soils not suitable for crops (such as sand dunes), farmland within urbanized areas including the adopted Urban Growth Area, land that has already been converted to industrial, commercial, residential, or recreational use, and farmland within existing right of way purchased on or before August 4, 1984.

If not exempt, federally funded projects need to submit the appropriate form for either a corridor or single location project found on the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) FPPA webpage. NRCS will return a Farmland Conversion Impact Rating (FCIR) score, which will determine if projects need to consider alternative actions to reduce adverse impacts to farmlands during the project design phase.

The FHWA Environmental Toolkit suggests that when a proposed project impacts farmland, the draft environmental analysis should:

  • Summarize the results of early consultation with the NRCS and, as appropriate, State and local agriculture agencies where farmland could be directly or indirectly impacted by any alternative under consideration.
  • Contain a map showing the location of all farmlands in the project impact area.
  • Discuss the impacts of the various alternatives.
  • Identify measures to avoid or reduce the impacts.

For assistance with the farmland conversion process, refer to the NRCS Farmland Assessment Procedure.

Critical areas

Check the local agencies’ Growth Management Act (GMA) Critical Areas Ordinances and GIS maps (if available) and the Municipal Research and Services Center’s (MRSC) Critical Areas website to determine if your work is in a critical area and if a permit is required. Coordinate with the local agency if you think your work may be in a critical area for instructions on how and when to get a permit.

Fish passage projects that qualify for the Fish Habitat Enhancement Program Hydraulic Project Approval (see the Fish webpage) are exempt from critical area permits and approvals.

Examples of critical areas include wetlands and buffers, aquifer recharge areas, wellhead protection areas, frequently flooded areas, geographically hazardous areas, fish and wildlife habitat, and conservation areas. Find how to comply with laws and regulations for these areas on the other discipline webpages:

Wild & Scenic Rivers

If work is in or near a river or a water resources project (including highway reconstruction and bridge replacement/modification), check to see if the river is listed in one of these three protected categories:

  • Congressionally designated WSRs Section 3(a) - Use the map to find the river's classification (Wild, Scenic, or Recreational) and description of the designated reach.
  • Congressionally Authorized Study rivers Section 5(a) - The State of Washington does not currently have any active Section 5(a) studies.
  • Candidate rivers Section 5(d)(1) - Search the Washington NRI list for the river in your area. For work in or around candidate rivers, determine whether the work will impact the river by:
    • Preventing free flow
    • Making water quality worse
    • Negatively affect the "outstandingly remarkable values"

Local land use

Determine existing local land use by consulting the Land Use Element in the appropriate County or City GMA Comprehensive plan and the corresponding Future Land Use Map.

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