The Voluntary Stewardship Program (VSP) is an alternative approach for counties in Washington State to protect and voluntarily enhance environmentally critical areas while maintaining and improving the long-term viability of local agriculture. Instead of enacting further critical areas regulation for agricultural activities, the VSP allows a technical assistance provider to work with agricultural operators to develop voluntary, site-specific stewardship plans. The Thurston Conservation District is the technical service provider for Thurston County.
Thurston County’s Voluntary Stewardship Plan (VSP) was approved by the Washington State Conservation Commission on April 26, 2017.
Goals of the VSP
- Protect and voluntarily enhance critical areas where they overlap with agricultural activities
- Maintain and improve the long-term viability of agriculture and reduce the conversion of farmland to other land use types
- Proactively address land-use regulation and conversion
- Gain a better understanding of the critical areas on your land and how to work with those to improve operational efficiencies, see higher yields, and increase production
- Flexible – allows farmers and ranchers to manage in a way that meets their needs
- Focuses on results rather than regulations. Proactively be a good steward of your land for generations to come
- Enhances the image of agriculture to the larger community as good stewards of natural resources
- Protect your farm from violations and regulation
- Participation in the VSP potentially opens individual landowners up to other cost share opportunities
- A successful Voluntary Stewardship Program supports a voluntary approach to land stewardship for all Thurston County residents. Success is dependent upon landowner participation.
The Role of Thurston Conservation District & VSP Technical Assistance
Thurston Conservation District, a non-regulatory agency, is the primary provider that helps landowners develop Individual Stewardship Plans (ISP) under the VSP. These plans are free, site-specific and tailored to individual agricultural operations to help them identify conservation practices that can be implemented on their land to aid in the voluntary conservation of the critical areas on their land. Participating landowners complete a checklist of current practices and then collaborate with Thurston CD staff to verify the extent and location of critical areas on the property and to develop an action plan for implementing conservation practices and maintaining or improving the long-term viability of the agricultural operations. This process is collaborative and site-specific throughout. Free educational opportunities offered by the Conservation District also serve as a companion to individual’s plans.
Technical staff will recommend agricultural activities and conservation practice options based on Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) conservation planning procedures. These include such things as cover cropping, exclusion fencing, integrated pest management, or prescribed grazing. Plans and recommendations are adapted to each operation individually.
Want to know more? Connect with our staff!
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.