Voluntary Stewardship Program

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The [[Washington State Conservation Commission was authorized in 2011 to offer Counties an alternative to Critical Areas Regulation under the Growth Management Act by developing a Voluntary Stewardship Program. This program applies where agricultural activities occur. As of 2023 27 out of 39 counties are using the VSP option. Under the VSP a landowner may develop a Stewardship Plan for their land to achieve compliance with GMA and local critical areas regulations.


Notes

  • Programs are developed on a county-by-county basis. A Technical Panel with director designees from Ecology, WDFW, Washington State Department of Agriculture
  • A statewide advisory committee with two representatives from environmental, agricultural and county interests and two tribal representatives meet to review policy and get presentations from county programs.
  • As of 2023 the program is managed by Bill Eller
  • Stewardship plans are different than Farm Plans by CDs under RCW 89.08.560 and thus confidentiality requirements do not apply.
  • In a 2017 policy advisory, the SCC took the position that Stewardship Plans fit the definition of Farm Plans and are thus not subject to disclosure.
    • SCC further asserts that "VSP does not focus on the individual parcel scale, but rather on the watershed scale, therefore there is no need for analysis at the individual parcel level under VSP."
  • Counties provide 2-year status reports, and 5-year review and evaluation reports. The review and evaluation reports include requirements described in a 2020 policy document that describe whether the VSP plan is meeting goals and benchmarks.
    • Define goals necessary to reach work plan benchmarks
    • Ensure outreach is provided to operators.
    • Define "measurable benchmarks" that track 1) protection of "critical area functions and values" and 2) enhancement of the same.
    • Monitoring of activities and implementation in plans, stewardship activities, and effects on benchmarks.
    • Adaptive management in collaboration with county commission.
  • [SCC] produced a 6-page policy describing adaptive management of the program.
  • Meeting notes include dialog between county programs and the technical committee, and concerns from the technical committee about whether programs are tracking the effects of BMPs at the scale of critical areas.


Questions

  • Have any counties failed out of the program, or have otherwise been challenged by the technical group?
  • Which counties have the most effective programs and which are weakest?
  • Since regulation depends on "agricultural activities" how does a County define the landscape within or not within the program?
  • Is the regulated list of parcels consistent with other designations like open space designations affecting county property taxation?