While development is a necessary component of Pierce County’s economic growth, developers and policymakers alike need to understand the trade-offs of developing rural and unincorporated areas, as opposed to incorporated or urban areas, to make the most effective decisions for Pierce County’s residents.
— Report, The Costs of Sprawl



Graph: Land Cover Type for Incorporated and Unincorporated Pierce County
Click Image to Enlarge

Pierce County is one of the fastest growing counties in Washington State and the majority of this growth is occurring in unincorporated areas. In fact, from 2000 to 2015, unincorporated Pierce County experienced higher levels of population growth compared to incorporated municipal areas. As pressure to develop Pierce County’s natural lands and open spaces increases, in particular agricultural lands and forested areas, there is a need to understand the trade-offs of developing rural and unincorporated areas to accommodate population growth.

This report finds that development in Pierce County has the potential to significantly impact the value of ecosystem services, the public benefits derived from nature such as clean air, purified water, raw materials like timber, and agricultural products. The report also finds that development can drastically increase county costs in the form of service extensions (e.g., public safety costs, utility costs), and impact the potential revenue from working farms and forests. Modeling these impacts through two development scenarios, our analysis shows that on average, developing in unincorporated Pierce County results in significantly higher impacts in each of the categories analyzed when compared to the alternative development scenario in incorporated Pierce County. While the impacts in this case are hypothetical, they represent the very real costs of sprawl, costs that should be considered when making holistic decisions about development and the future of Pierce County’s natural landscapes.

Are you interested in learning more? Connect with us today!

Map: Land Cover Type, Pierce County
Click to Enlarge

Van Deren, M., Armistead, C., Kerr, N., Soares, J. 2019. The Costs of Sprawl: The Potential Impacts of Development in Pierce County, Washington. Earth Economics. Tacoma, WA.

Funding provided by: The Puyallup Watershed Initiative in partnership with the Forests Community of Interest (FCOI) and the Agriculture Community of Interest (AgCOI).