Purchase of Agricultural Conservation Easements
The Pacific Northwest's best farmland is disappearing. Because farms are so easy to develop, and because global economic changes make their sale ever more attractive to landowners, farmlands tend to be first to meet the bulldozer.
As we lose our farms, we lose the benefit of the wonderful products they produce, and we lose our direct local access to those products. In addition, we also lose the critical environmental benefits these farms provide. Well-managed farms do not pollute. Instead they generate important environmental values like open space, wildlife habitat and migration corridors, floodwater detention, protections for clean water, and aquifer recharge. We do not pay our farmers for producing these values – they do so for free. But once those farms are developed, any opportunity to protect or enhance these values virtually disappears.
Purchase of agricultural conservation easement (PACE) programs can be an important tool for local planners who wish to manage sprawl while also addressing environmental degradation. The 2002 federal farm bill greatly increased interest in PACE by committing nearly $1 billion in 50 percent matching funds for these programs over the next 10 years. At the same time, legislative activity in the three Pacific Northwest states has reflected heightened local interest in PACE. In Washington, for example, the 2002 Legislature passed HB 2758 creating a new (albeit unfunded) statewide PACE program in the State Conservation Commission. The 2003 Oregon Legislature adopted HB 2754 authorizing conservation districts to hold agricultural conservation easements. And the 2002 Idaho Legislature came close to creating a new statewide farmland protection program.
To support and encourage this trend, American Farmland Trust has undertaken a major initiative to build support for PACE programs—with a longer-term view toward joining rural and urban sectors as a part of a broad constituency in support of a combined program of:
- Protecting farmland from development using PACE programs;
- Assuring environmental stewardship on agricultural lands through
improved farm management practices by increasing financial
support for farmer’s environmental stewardship; and,
- Supporting economic development for agriculture that helps
create economically self-sustaining agricultural communities.
We call this program "Understanding PACE" and we have created this website to collect together many of the documents and links that will allow Pacific Northwest citizens to become more informed about this issue and to have the tools they need to work for the creation of strong local PACE programs that are effective, that are cost efficient, and that truly meet the needs of local communities.