Conservation on Private Lands

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The vast majority of the Salish Sea lowlands are privately owned. The stewardship of ecosystems will require that private landowners, making decisions that benefit our public trust resources. A wide range of governmental programs are designed to create economic incentives for stewardship. These programs are largely unknown to many citizens (Carr et al 2014).

This analysis was initially adapted from Dittbrenner 2015. While land is currently zoned for residential, rural, or urban uses, there is no "zone" for habitat, outside protections under the Growth Management Act and Shoreline Managment Act (usually known as critical areas regulations), or limits on water withdrawal. The protection of ecosystem services, is still largely voluntary. With some thought, you can mix different programs, to produce a package that meets your needs and provides public benefit.

Permanent Sale of Land Rights

Fee Simple Sale of Land - Sale of farm property to another farmer,or sale of unproductive farmland or conservation easement to a land trust or public agency. Land Trusts, Counties, and Indian Nations, and sometimes, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife are most commonly involved in property acquisition for public benefits, usually using state or federal grant funds. Each group has their own goals for the kinds of lands they want to buy, and if they prefer to use fee-simple acquisition or easement acquisition. Sometimes FEMA can buy out land where flooding regularly causes property damage (usually operated by counties).

Trade-offs: Protection of the land in perpetuity, land owner may be able to lease back some use of land, compensation comes in one lump payment
  • Purchase of Development Rights - Voluntary program, publicly funded, Development rights extinguished, landowner receives $ for conservation easement placed on land, Ag or forest land maintained in perpetuity. Counties often have this ability under their Conservation Futures authority (generated through a county tax on real estate transactions.)
Trade-offs: One lump payment, farmer still retains ownership and other property rights—can still farm land.
  • Transfer of Development Rights - private developers buy your development rights to increase their development in other areas targeted for density. You need to be in an area targeted for conservation. Only some counties have established TDR programs in place, and they depend on municipalities creating conditions where developers need to buy credits, and market conditions.
Trade-offs - One lump sum payment, landowner retains other property rights, you can build fewer housing units on your property (voluntary down-zoning).
  • Wetland Reserve Easement - The Natural Resource Conservation Service will acquire a conservation easement for 30 years or in perpetuity for a portion of a property that is jurisdictional wetland.
Trade-offs - lump sum payment, you retain ownership, use of land is restricted, future reversion may not be allowed by county under the Growth Management Act.
  • Mitigation - A private party may pay you to create a habitat site, to compensate for damages to habitat elsewhere, caused by development. It is usually accompanied by a perpetual easement. Wetlands are the most common mitigation requirement. The land may then be developed as a restoration project site.
Trade-offs - if desired, you could be employed by the private party to support restoration.

Temporary Conservation Incentives

  • Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program - a USDA program (managed by FSA and administered by NRCS, applied for thorough a conservation district, where you sign a contract with the US Government to grow trees along a stream, in exchange for an annual rental payment (usually around $200-450 per acre per year). There is a minimum of 1 acre or 50 foot buffer, and fencing, planting, maintenance, and off-stream watering facilities may be partially or completely paid for depending on the status of the state budget.
Trade-offs: Annual income, you retain ownership, funding for permanent fencing and livestock watering facilities. The resulting forest is except from state forest practices, however county regulations may prevent future cutting. The understory can be managed for other benefits.
  • Open Space Tax Exemptions - Depending on the county, you may be able to pay an enrollment fee, and reduce your property taxes for a 10 year contract duration in exchange for keeping it in "open space" and not building out its development potential.
Trade-offs: reduced property taxes, there is usually something like a 7-year tax penalty for early withdrawal.

Project-based Approaches

  • Environmental Quality Incentives Program - EQIP is an NRCS program that provides 50-100% of the cost for specific practices to improve the environmental services of agricultural or working forest lands. Usually provides 50-100% cost share for conservation practices as reimbursement for landowner costs that meet program specifications. Includes: stream crossings, irrigation efficiency, manure storage, protective fencing, off stream livestock watering, confinement areas, etc.
Trade-offs: Conservation Districts can assist with design and paperwork. The landowner can be the installation contractor.
  • Grant Funded Projects - There are a range of parties who seek state and federal restoration funding to complete habitat restoration and protection projects, including Indian Nations, Counties, Conservation Districts, and Regional Fishery Enhancement Groups. Watershed coordinators like Lead Entity Coordinators can often connect you to the right people. You may be able to get a habitat restoration project completed on your land at no cost. Project might include plantings, livestock exclusion, culvert replacement, large wood installation, removal of shoreline armoring, and other difficult in-water work.
Trade-offs: You get to enhance the habitat on your property, you may become a construction site for a period of time, other people take care of the project.