The Voluntary Stewardship Program (VSP) is an optional, incentive-based approach to protecting critical areas while promoting agriculture. The VSP is allowed under the Growth Management Act as an alternative to traditional approaches to critical areas protection, such as “no touch” buffers. Twenty eight counties have “opted in” to the VSP by nominating one or more watersheds in their county where the program would apply. Garfield County has received funding to develop a VSP work plan. The goals of the VSP program include:
Promote plans to protect and enhance critical areas where agricultural activities are conducted, while maintaining and improving the long-term viability of agriculture in the state of Washington and reducing the conversion of farmland to other uses
Focus and maximize voluntary incentive programs to encourage good riparian and ecosystem stewardship as an alternative to historic approaches used to protect critical areas
Leverage existing resources by relying upon existing work and plans in counties and local watersheds, as well as existing state and federal programs to the maximum extent practicable to achieve program goals
Encourage and foster a spirit of cooperation and partnership among county, tribal, environmental, and agricultural interests to better assure program success
Improve compliance with other laws designed to protect water quality and fish habitat
Rely upon voluntary stewardship practices as the primary method of protecting critical areas and not require the cessation of agricultural activities (RCW 36.70A.700)
WHAT IS THE VOLUNTARY STEWARDSHIP PROGRAM?
The Voluntary Stewardship Program (VSP) is an incentive based approach to protecting critical areas while promoting agriculture. VSP is allowed under the Growth Management Act as an alternative to traditional approaches to critical area protection. Garfield County is one of 28 counties that has “opted in” to VSP, and has received funding to develop a VSP Work Plan.
WHAT IS REQUIRED TO BE ADDRESSED IN VSP WORK PLAN?
In order to establish the program, a watershed work plan is required and must contain goals and benchmarks for the protection and enhancement of critical areas. The VSP Work Plan for Garfield County must also “Maintain and enhance” the viability of agriculture in the county to receive approval. The VSP Work Plan must be approved by the Directors of the Washington State Conservation Commission, Department of Fish and Wildlife, Department of Agriculture and Department of Ecology.
WHAT ARE CRITICAL AREAS?
Critical areas as defined by GMA include: 1) frequently flooded areas, 2) wetlands, 3) critical aquifer recharge areas, 4) geologically hazardous areas and 5)fish and wildlife habitat conservation areas “with an emphasis on anadromous fish”.
HOW LONG WILL IT TAKE?
The Conservation Commission Director must approve the VSP Work Plan within 3 years of funding (December 2015) and funding has been identified through June 2017.
Work together with other farmers and ranchers to promote voluntary versus additional regulatory controls. This means more certainty and less regulations.
Create a baseline for your farm and/or ranch and measurable benchmarks for future protection or restoration projects on a voluntary basis
Document advances and changes that have occurred
Conserve, improve and increase efficient use of natural resources to support greater yields and produce quality projects that leave a small footprint on the environment
Promote a positive image of agriculture
Enhance marketability of agricultural products
FOR MORE INFORMATION, PLEASE CONTACT:
Duane Bartels, Pomeroy Conservation District Manager Bradley Johnson, Palouse Conservation District Watershed Manager