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Farmland Protection in Pacific Northwest
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AFT in the Pacific Northwest > Farmland Protection in Pacific Northwest

Creating a Washington State Purchase of Agricultural Conservation Easements (PACE) Program

Between 2002 and 2005, we launched our “Understanding PACE” campaign to overcome the suspicion of PACE programs in Washington agriculture.  We contacted and met one-on-one with farm industry members from groups and local chapters in communities all across the State.  We made presentations at meetings, commented in the agriculture press, provided targeted written materials explaining PACE programs, proposed internal policy resolutions to help farmers make their case through organizational processes, and carried the message far and wide in the agriculture community. 

A bill to create such a program as a part of the existing Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program (WWRP) failed in the 2004 Legislature under opposition from the agriculture industry.  Then the industry shifted its position and, with mainstream agriculture industry support, the 2005 Washington Legislature amended WWRP to include a farmland protection component.  As of the end of June 2009, this program will have helped to protect about 27 Washington farms from development around the state.

Nurturing Local Farmland Protection Programs

Since our Washington Office opened in 2000, we have met with, made educational presentations to, and provided direct help for hundreds of farmland protection groups and advocates in local communities all around our State.  We provide assistance on the technical issues involved in developing local farmland protection programs, advise on the formation of local groups and coalitions to carry the issue in the local community, and help guide their political action agenda to make them effective.

Our work helped strengthen farmland protection in many communities, several of which have taken direct policy action to create PACE and other local programs.  In 2000, PACE programs already existed in King, Skagit, and San Juan Counties.  Since then, new programs have been created, attempted, or are emerging in Whatcom, Snohomish, Pierce, Thurston, Clark, and Clallam Counties.  And several other communities are engaged and actively considering them.

A New Office of Farmland Preservation

Our advocacy on farmland protection led to the early adoption of favorable PACE policy by the Washington State Conservation Commission (WSCC) and to inclusion by local conservation districts around the State in their strategic planning.  And, in 2007, our ongoing work with the agriculture community, with land trusts, with existing and emerging local PACE programs, and our direct advocacy in the legislature built support for and helped lead to creation of the new Office of Farmland Preservation (OFP) in the WSCC and of a Farmland Preservation Task Force that now helps advise the Legislature and advocate for measures supporting farms and farmland. 

In early 2009, the Task Force produced a report with some excellent recommendations for next steps needed to assure a future for Washington farmland.  The OFP was funded again for the coming Biennium and is hard at work continuing to fight, within State Government, for stronger programs to preserve our State’s working lands.

Designing a Program of State Farmland Protection Grants to Local Communities

Under contract with the OFP as an aid to its Task Force deliberations, in 2009 we researched models for state level farmland protection programs and designed a criteria and recommended structure for a State grants program that would nurture, guide, and financially support local community sponsored PACE programs that protect local agriculture.  The 2009 budget crisis forestalled legislative action on our report, but such a structure now seems highly likely as the foundation of new State efforts to support farmland protection in the years ahead.

Land Protection Statistics for the Future of Farming

Under contract with the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) Future of Farming Study, we assembled and presented a suite of statistics analyzing the status of farmland and its protection in Washington.  These materials helped inform focus group discussions by the study group, that led to a set of recommendations for the future of Washington agriculture.

Facilitating Access to Existing Programs for Farmland Protection

We also assembled a 2009 compilation of the private and public programs, at all levels, that are designed to support the preservation of agriculture and agricultural lands.  The compilation provides a description of each program and of its purposes, information about how it works, web access, and names and contact information for the people who manage it.

A Plan for the Future of Agriculture in Klickitat County, WA

Pursuant to a grant from the OFP, in 2008, Washington’s Klickitat County undertook the development of a plan for the future of agriculture in their community.  They were motivated by deepening struggles in agriculture to assure the water, the markets, the labor, the capital, the land, and the other critical inputs needed for the industry’s long term survival.  The County contracted with us to help.  We did initial and developed public discussion materials on issues and opportunities for the future of the local agriculture industry.  Based on these materials, we broadly advertised and the conducted 6 public meetings in multiple locations around this geographically large and agriculturally diverse county to gain a public vision for the future of the industry, to identify the barriers and issues preventing the achievement of that vision, and then to recommend some opportunities and policy actions to address these needs.  In early 2009, we reported on our findings and recommendations to the County Council and continue to work with the County to help them implement local actions to make their community vision come true.

Grants to Counties for Planning for Agriculture

With our encouragement, the WWRP program provided funding, in 2008, to the new OFP which, in turn, provided 8 grants to local counties around Washington to allow them to conduct local planning processes that would help their development of community plans for the future of agriculture and with the adoption of local policies to implement those plans.  These grants have produced recommendations and actions in several counties.  The Klickitat County project (mentioned above) was funded by one of those grants.

Strengthening the Potential for Regional Transfer of Development Rights

We were called upon to serve on a Policy Advisory Committee for Washington’s Community Trade and Economic Development Department in assessing and making recommendations for a regional – multi-county - transfer of development rights (TDR) program.  This committee developed highly original new approaches to TDR and made recommended legislation for the 2009 Session which successfully passed.  If implemented, the resulting TDR programs are likely to serve as a model for TDRs around the country that could help make these usually problematic programs useful as a farmland protection technique.

Cost of Community Services Studies

We completed and publicized three different Cost of Community Services (COCS) studies in Washington – in Skagit, San Juan, and Okanogan Counties.  And we make COCS study results known wherever we go.  COCS studies demonstrate that developing farmland is usually a net fiscal negative for rural communities because the cost of community services needed for the new land uses overwhelms any increase in the tax base.  We developed the method and protocols for these studies and there have now been over 100 of them performed nationally.  The studies have had considerable impact on public thinking in these local communities here in Washington as they have all across the country.

Protecting a local dairy for both cows and for swans

Some 55 acres of the Jay Gordon Dairy, near Elma, WA, is a favorite migration stop over for the dwindling flocks of Trumpeter Swans.  The swans like the fact that the cows keep the grass short so it is easier to land and take off.  The nutrient rich soil produces high quality grass on which the swans feed.  And they appreciate the rural, agricultural surroundings, away from the hustle of people and traffic.  Using funding from the National Parks Foundation set aside to protect migratory swan habitat, we worked with the landowner and with the Trumpeter Swan Society to develop an easement that would protect this 55 acre parcel for the swans in the years to come while also protecting it for the Gordon Dairy’s cows as well.  The Capitol Land Trust holds this easement and provides for its long term stewardship.

American Farmland Trust