What the Voluntary Stewardship Program Is

The Voluntary Stewardship Program (VSP) is an alternative approach to protect critical areas on agricultural lands. Instead of enacting further critical areas regulation on agricultural lands, the VSP would allow us to work closely with stakeholders to develop voluntary, site-specific stewardship plans.  The mission of the VSP is to create a voluntary stewardship plan which protects critical areas while maintaining and enhancing the viability of agriculture.

Twenty-seven counties statewide opted into VSP.  In 2014, a group was formed locally to develop the work plan for our county, as required under the RCW. This group includes a broad representation of key stakeholders and representatives of agricultural and environmental groups, as well as tribes that have agreed to participate. 

History of the VSP

In 2006, Initiative 933 addressed regulatory taking of agricultural lands due to development regulations, which failed by 60 percent. The following year, the state Legislature commissioned the Ruckelshaus Center, a non-profit think tank based in Seattle, to examine the conflict between preserving agricultural lands and protecting critical areas in local ordinances adopted under the GMA. This process brought together stakeholders on the issue for discussion and development of a recommendation to the Legislature.  At that point, a moratorium was placed on the requirement for local governments to update their critical area ordinances as they specifically applied to agricultural activities. The Voluntary Stewardship Program is the result of the hard work undertaken by the Ruckelshaus Center. In the spring of 2007, the state legislature adopted Substitute Senate Bill 5248.

In the spring of 2011, the state legislature enacted Engrossed Substitute House Bill (ESHB) 1886 which enacted the recommendations of the Ruckelshaus process. This bill amended the

Growth Management Act (RCW 36.70A) to allow options for protecting critical areas:

VSP permits counties to use a voluntary stewardship program in conjunction with stakeholders in lieu of enacting further critical areas regulations in regards to agricultural uses.  As such, the County launched the formation of the stakeholder group, which is working the develop the work plan.  The VSP is administered by the Washington State Conservation Commission.

The Role of Thurston Conservation District in the VSP

As a non-regulatory organization that works directly with landowners and agricultural operations, Thurston Conservation District has a unique role to play in bringing the VSP to our county’s residents.  We are serving as a technical resource in the planning process, and have been designated as a technical service provider, once the final VSP is adopted. This means that the District will work with the agricultural community to develop VSP plans, specific to each operation.

For more information please visit the Thurston County Resource Stewardship Department at the link provided below.

Links & Resources:

VSP Fact Sheet
Washington State Conservation Commission
Thurston County Resource Stewardship Department

Photo of Oyster Bay Farm