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Voluntary Stewardship Program

The Voluntary Stewardship Program group.

Project Overview

In 2007, the Washington State Legislature enacted SSB 5248, requesting that tribal and county governments, and agricultural and environmental interests, embark on fact-finding and dialogue to prepare recommendations for preserving agricultural viability while protecting environmentally critical areas under Washington’s Growth Management Act. The Center was designated to coordinate the fact-finding research and facilitate the discussions. The aim was to develop potential solutions, policies and practices that ensure protection of environmentally sensitive areas in ways that also support the preservation of farm lands and a strong farm economy. SSB 5248 put in place a three-year moratorium on counties adopting amendments to critical areas ordinances with respect to agricultural activities. It also included a September 2009 deadline for the Center to report the results of the process. These deadlines were extended for one year.

Project Description

The Agriculture and Critical Areas Project was designed to proceed in three phases. The first year was devoted to the formation of an advisory committee comprised of the four caucuses, development of operating ground rules, and an exchange of issues, concerns, and ideas among the participants. Faculty from UW and WSU and staff of the Center also initiated fact finding on the topics specified by the original legislation: critical areas ordinances, the conservation reserve enhancement program, conservation easements, buffer widths, requirements of federally-approved salmon recovery plans, the impact of agriculture on Puget Sound recovery efforts, and compliance with water quality requirements. In 2008, the advisory committee reviewed several presentations and draft reports on the fact finding topics. Meetings in 2009 were largely devoted to crafting a “strawdog” agreement that would focus and maximize voluntary approaches for agricultural stewardship while protecting and enhancing ecological functions that support clean water and productive habitat.

Representatives of the agriculture, environmental and county caucuses testified in support of legislation extending the process during the 2010 legislative session, and the extension (SSB 6520) was signed into law. The Center embarked on a new approach for 2010, creating three work groups to focus on key unresolved issues:

  • The accountability and privacy work group worked on procedures to ensure that voluntary stewardship efforts would be reviewed for adequacy and verified for completion. At the same time, the work group recognized that landowner privacy and confidentiality are an essential element of voluntary participation;
  • Consequences to be used if desired outcomes are not achieved through voluntary programs or approaches; and
  • Program implementation.

The Center also coordinated discussions with appropriate state agencies. The Agriculture and Critical Areas Committee worked through these issues and developed a Framework for a Voluntary Stewardship Program. The Center’s final report, containing that framework, was completed in October 2010.

The Committee established a Legislative Subcommittee to develop proposed legislation for implementing the program. The legislation was introduced on February 12, 2011 in the House Local Government Committee (as HB 1886), and on February 14, 2011 in the Senate Agriculture and Rural Economic Development Committee (as SB 5713). In both cases, it was sponsored by the Committee Chair, Vice Chair, ranking minority member and others, and was passed out of the legislature on April 14, 2011. On May 16, 2011, Governor Gregoire signed ESHB 1886, creating the Voluntary Stewardship Program.
Governor Gregoire signing the ESHB 1886
The Ag CA Committee also established, and the Center is facilitating, a Funding Subcommittee to identify potential sources for funding the program. This includes funding for program operations, enforcement of existing water quality regulations, and incentives and technical expertise to help farmers implement stewardship actions.

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 has remained involved during implementation, providing facilitation, consultation, strategic planning, and program and evaluation design, to help ensure a successful program launch and build capacity among the implementers. The NFWF grant also provides funding to support the American Farmland Trust’s Pioneers in Conservation Program, which includes on-the-ground projects that serve as pilots for the type of work that will occur on farmland across the State of Washington when ESHB 1886 is implemented.

Project Staff: Amanda Murphy, Project & Development Lead

If you would like any additional information on this project please email Amanda Murphy, Project & Development Lead, or visit the Conservation Commission’s website.

Updated on March 31, 2019

Documents & Resources

WSU Impact Report:


Progress Reports:

Foundational Texts