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Partnering for Farms AND Salmon
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Well-managed agriculture is good for the environment. American Farmland Trust (AFT) and the agricultural community have long understood that statement, but it has been harder to get sound public policy to reflect that truth. In mid-2004, AFT began working with Shared Strategy for Puget Sound, an influential local organization consisting of governments, agencies and organizations working together on salmon recovery. Shared Strategy’s purpose was to create a locally supported “Puget Sound Salmon Recovery Plan” that could be adopted by the federal government’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries Service in response to the Endangered Species Act listing of Puget Sound Chinook salmon. AFT’s objective was to help the group create a plan that approached salmon recovery in a way that would also be constructive for agriculture.

The official NOAA Fisheries Draft Plan is now out for comment at a series of public meetings to be held throughout the Puget Sound area during the month of February. (In particular, take a look at “Proposal for the Prosperity for Farming and Salmon,” Vol. I, Ch. 6, Habitat Strategies, pp. 411-419.)

The draft Puget Sound Salmon Recovery Plan now under comment from NOAA contains a section on agriculture that specifically recognizes the environmental importance of preserving agriculture, as it presents the steps needed to save both farms and fish. The plan proposes that saving farms will also save salmon—and that saving salmon can be done in a way to also save farms. When done properly, this can result in a “partnership for farms and salmon” in the Puget Sound Basin. As obvious as this may sound for advocates of agriculture, it is actually a revolutionary concept when included in an official plan for the protection of the environment. It also represents a huge step ahead for local farmers. 

Based on Shared Strategy’s determination to protect both salmon and agriculture, AFT offered to help the group begin implementing this “partnership” concept. With primary funding from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF), AFT was hired to promote and administer a new grants program called “Pioneers in Conservation.” First, we helped design criteria for grants that would save both farms and salmon. Next, we assembled a grants review committee composed of respected leaders from both the agriculture and environmental communities. We promoted the program with local salmon recovery and agriculture groups and solicited their applications. We then helped obtain additional funding assistance from The Nature Conservancy and from the Tulalip Tribes Charitable Fund, and we also were able to enlist moral support through public co-sponsorships from leading agricultural and environmental groups, which demonstrated the deeper political impact of the partnership.  
Today, this new program is providing salmon recovery grants for projects on farms throughout the Puget Sound Basin. The projects help the recovery of salmon and, at the same time, also improve the economic viability of the farm businesses. In two rounds of grants in 2005, Pioneers in Conservation received 32 applications, and we were able to fund about 12.     

AFT is now helping our partners find further support for a continued round of Pioneers grants into 2007 and beyond. We are working with the Washington Association of Conservation Districts and the Washington State Conservation Commission to look for ways that they may be able to help take the lead in administering this effort in the future. We also will be looking to Congress and elsewhere for new ways to fund the project. At the same time, we are helping Shared Strategy build the support, engage the partners and launch implementation of the rest of its “Proposal for Prosperity for Farming and Salmon” in the “Puget Sound Salmon Recovery Plan.” The Pioneers grants program is just a part of this larger effort. For these efforts to be successful, we must continue to seek the active interest and support of agricultural and environmental groups and educate the general public.

We believe this Puget Sound effort can serve as an important model for other parts of the Northwest and elsewhere in the country. The notion that successful farms can be good for salmon, and that salmon recovery can be good for farms, is a powerful idea. There can be a partnership between farms and salmon. We now need to translate that idea into good policy, as local communities implement the Shared Strategy plan. If we are successful, we will greatly advance the protection and sound management of farmland in the Puget Sound area for many years to come. more

UPDATE: Additional funding for Pioneers in Conservation

There is good news for the Pioneers in Conservation grants program! AFT’s successful collaboration over the past two years with Shared Strategy for Puget Sound in creating this successful farms & salmon grants program made Washington legislators so impressed that they decided to fund the program directly with a $500,000, 2-year appropriation through the Washington State Conservation Commission (WSCC).

The new good news is that the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation (NFWF), our original Pioneers funder and supporter, has decided also to continue their participation with an added $500,000 grant. WSCC and NFWF will join forces in continuing the popular Pioneers program. AFT will continue to handle outreach, to work with the agriculture community, and to assist with administration.

It is gratifying to see Pioneers in Conservation continue with strong funding. The program is grounded in logic that is foundational for AFT: We believe that profitable, well-managed farms are good for the environment and that saving farms and saving the environment go hand-in-hand. The success of Pioneers is proof of the immense possibilities of that concept. We anticipate many wonderful new success stories based on this idea in the months and years ahead.

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