Agricultural Resource Lands Protection

Client: Pierce County

Location: Pierce County, WA

As part of a multi-disciplinary team, we evaluated Pierce County’s existing land use policy for designating agricultural resource lands (ARL). This evaluation process led to our recommendations for alternative approaches to better protect and support the agricultural sector and farmland protection.


Pierce County is home to some of the most fertile farmland in the Pacific Northwest, but has the highest rate of farmland loss in the Puget Sound Region. The process of protecting designated farmland is hotly contested and past designations have left lingering questions.


The team started out by evaluating the current land use policy and the effectiveness of the regulations for protecting commercially viable agriculture lands.  We did this by taking a comprehensive look at the changes that have occurred in Pierce County over the past ten years. We analyzed the existing agriculture sector and long term trends,evaluated other regulations throughout the region, assessed the exemption impacts to taxing districts, and held public meetings and performed stakeholder surveys to understand the needs and concerns of local communities throughout Pierce County.

We aimed to provide answers to questions such as:

  • Is the county using appropriate criteria for designating ARL?
  • How will recommendations fiscally impact businesses and individuals in effected districts?
  • What criteria are needed to adequately protect commercially viable agricultural lands?


The FLO team provided advanced GIS analysis to support all project components. We modeled multiple scenarios using various iterations of key criteria used to define alternative ARL designations and created data visualizations that condensed the information into a clear and easily understood picture for Pierce County and the public. Our recommendations were presented to the public and the Pierce County Council in September, 2016. A series of technical memoranda outlining the process and recommendations can be found on the project homepage. You can read more about the Pierce County Project from the community and in the local news.

Project Update: In August, 2018, the Pierce County Council adopted a new ordinance that defines ARL in Pierce County based on our recommended criteria! Congratulations to the project team and Pierce County citizens on the new designation, which will help protect more farmland in the county.

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