Voluntary Stewardship Program
In 2007, Washington’s Governor and Legislature—along with agricultural, tribal, environmental and local government representatives—asked the Center to assist in resolving long-standing conflict over the protection and enhancement on agricultural lands of environmentally “critical areas” under Washington’s Growth Management Act. This conflict, more than a decade old, has spawned lawsuits, appeals, legislative battles and a voter initiative. In Substitute Senate Bills 5248 and 6520, the parties involved reached a compromise for a moratorium on counties adopting amendments to critical areas ordinances with respect to agricultural activities while participating stakeholders developed recommendations to resolve the long-standing disagreements. The Center was designated to coordinate fact-finding research and facilitate the discussions. The aim was to develop solutions, policies and practices that ensure protection of environmentally sensitive areas in ways that support the preservation of farm lands and a strong farm economy.
In September 2010, the Agriculture and Critical Areas (Ag CA) Committee reached agreement on a framework for a Voluntary Stewardship Program. The Center submitted a Final Report on the process in October 2010 that included this framework. The Ag CA Committee established a Legislative Subcommittee to turn the framework into proposed legislation for implementing the Program and the Center facilitated their discussions. This legislation was introduced in the Washington State House and the Senate in February 2011, and passed the legislature in April 2011 as ESHB 1886. On May 16, 2011, Governor Gregoire signed ESHB 1886, creating the Voluntary Stewardship Program.
The Washington State Conservation Commission (which the legislation designates as the lead state agency) and the parties to the agreement asked the Center to continue its involvement, believing the Center’s neutrality, experience with these issues/parties and expertise in collaborative processes would continue to be helpful as the agencies and parties begin early implementation. With support from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF), the Center remained involved during the first two years of implementation.
For more information on the Voluntary Stewardship Program.