Douglas County Voluntary Stewardship Program Work Plan Approved

On Monday, April 30, 2018, the State of Washington approved the Douglas County Voluntary Stewardship Program (VSP) Work Plan. The work plan approval is the culmination of an eighteen-month planning process undertaken by a local work group consisting of farmers, ranchers, orchardists, agricultural groups, environmental groups, and state and federal agencies. The hard work of all the individuals on the local work group was necessary to ensure that this plan will work for the agricultural community of Douglas County.

Many of you in the agricultural community have likely heard of the Voluntary Stewardship Program, but for those who haven’t, VSP was created as an agriculturally friendly alternative approach to regulatory protection of critical areas. The Voluntary Stewardship Program aims to protect critical areas —wetlands, fish and wildlife habitat conservation areas, geologically hazardous areas, frequently flooded areas, and areas with critical recharging effect of aquifers used for potable water — where they intersect with agricultural activities, through voluntary, incentive-based measures, while at the same time improving the long term viability of agriculture.

That’s a mouthful. The take home message is that the VSP reduces the regulatory burden on the agricultural community by eliminating the need for agricultural activities to be regulated by the Critical Area Ordinances of the Growth Management Act. The primary goals of the VSP in Douglas County are to:

  • Promote conservation activities that protect and enhance critical areas, while maintaining and improving the long-term viability of agriculture;
  • Focus and maximize voluntary incentive programs to encourage good land stewardship; and
  • Rely on voluntary conservation activities as the primary method of protecting critical areas. VSP will not require the cessation of agricultural activities or the use of regulations.

However, should the Voluntary Stewardship Program fail in Douglas County, agricultural operators would be subject to the Critical Area Ordinances of the Growth Management Act. This is a regulatory approach to critical area protection, and is something that producers in this county have never been subject to. It would mean that most operators in the county may be required to obtain a permit whenever changes are made to their operation; it would mean that any damage to a critical area would have to be offset at the operator’s expense; it would mean the potential for mandatory no-touch buffers; it would require protection at the parcel level, meaning regulators stopping by to check on your operation; it would mean time, money, hassle, and uncertainty.

Now that we have addressed the importance of why VSP must succeed, let’s talk about how we can collectively make it happen. The VSP work plan for Douglas County bases critical area protection on the amount of conservation activities that are implemented across the county. This means that all that is needed to make VSP succeed is the continued implementation of conservation activities that also enhance your agricultural viability! VSP in Douglas County could fail if producers do not continue to implement conservation activities that protect and/or enhance critical areas, or the implementation of those conservation activities is not communicated and accounted for.

To help account for the implementation of conservation activities, a 100% anonymous and confidential VSP Producer Survey will be administered every five years. Protection of critical areas is demonstrated on the watershed scale in VSP. This means there is no need to collect personally identifying information or match your survey responses to an exact location on the map.

To help VSP succeed, additional support will be available to producers at no cost. This support includes technical assistance and farm-scale planning, assistance in applying for an incidental take permit as part of the Multi-Species General Conservation Plan, workshops, trainings, and other services that you might be interested in. Additionally, through VSP implementation, additional funding and cost-share opportunities will be acquired and made available to producers wishing to implement conservation activities.

Please take advantage of this great program and help contribute to its success. Here are just a few reasons why participating in VSP benefits you and the legacy of your operation:

  • Participating in VSP contributes to its success, which means less regulatory burden on you, your successors, and most Douglas County producers.
  • FREE technical assistance is available to you to help plan and implement conservation activities.
  • Cost-share funding is available to help offset any costs associated with implementing conservation activities.
  • VSP only encourages the implementation of conservation activities that also are intended to benefit your agricultural viability.

For more information on the Voluntary Stewardship Program in Douglas County, please visit our website at http://www.fostercreekcd.org/programs/voluntary-stewardship-program/ where you will find a list of FAQs and informative materials designed specifically for producers. I look forward to working with you!

Aaron Rosenblum is the voluntary stewardship program coordinator for the Foster Creek Conservation District. 

He may be reached at P.O. Box 398 Waterville, WA 98858 (509) 423-5990 or (509) 888-6372; or arosenblum@fostercreekcd.org.