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Western Washington Ag Report

May - June 2024

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After using the WDFW’s GIS mapping tool, WWAA leaders and staff calculated that 40% of the Breum Farm’s 215 acre section near Stanwood will be taken out of production if the Governor's Riparian Task Force recommendations are implemented.

Governor’s Riparian Task Force Draft Recommendations Impact Local Farms

Members of WWAA’s leadership team recently hosted the Governor’s Riparian Task Force during a tour of Snohomish and Skagit area farmlands. The goal was to show how the Task Force’s recent draft recommendations will impact area farms. The Task Force is sending out their final recommendations on June 30. The latest version of the recommendations include eminent domain language, as well as site potential tree height buffer widths. In some areas that will include more than one hundred foot buffers. The draft recommendations also include language that would require certain non-fish-bearing waterways to be prioritized along with fish-bearing waters:

“Include restoration criteria for both fish-bearing and non-fish-bearing waters in accordance with Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) recommendations. For non-fish-bearing waters prioritize those that have a significant nexus to salmon and steelhead recovery over non-fish-bearing waters that do not have a significant nexus to salmon and steelhead recovery.” (2.2.7)
 

This could mean that the Skagit Valley’s dike and drainage infrastructure would be bordered by one hundred foot riparian buffers throughout the delta. “This is absolute nonsense,” WWAA President, Jenn Smith (Fir Island) said. “They are focused on taking land out of production and yet have no idea the full ramifications these suggestions have on farms and local communities. Removing such large amounts of productive land along each side of every slough, dike and drainage ditch in the delta will force farms out of business.”

The Task Force stopped at the Breum family farm near Stanwood, and WWAA board member Tyler Breum explained the major impact the recommendations would have on their farm. “My brother and I are the 5th generation of my family to grow crops in these fields,” said Breum (Stanwood). “We have been leaders in locally led conservation efforts, working with the Stillaguamish Tribe, municipalities, and neighbors to improve fish habitat and farm productively. The Riparian Task Force's recommendations will have a major impact on our farm physically and financially. It will also lead to less food production for the state and world.”

After using the WDFW’s GIS mapping tool, WWAA leaders and staff calculated that 40% of Breum’s 215 acre section near Stanwood would be taken out of production. “This buffer will remove over 86 acres,” said Bruem. “That means 4.3 million pounds less potatoes, 103,000 pounds less spinach seed, or 175,000 pounds less grass seed grown each year.”

During the visit to Breum’s farm, Scott DeGraw, long time agricultural lender for Bank of the Pacific, was asked about the financial ramifications of these setbacks to farmers. “They are huge” replied DeGraw, who is a farmer himself in Skagit County. “The removal of 86 acres from farming means that the property loses 40% of its ability to help pay for the costs associated with the farming operation. In addition to this reduction in their earnings ability, the loss of this land for farming would reduce the value of the bank’s collateral by over $1 million dollars. This would be devastating to farmers and banks who suddenly have loans that are under-collateralized because the value of the collateral has declined so much. It really is a no win situation”.

“These recommendations have the potential to shut down farming in the Skagit area and other western counties in the state,” said WWAA Policy Director Kara Rowe. “That is not an exaggeration. The Task Force members must understand the true impacts of what they are doing, and this will be a very expensive venture for the state if they enact these recommendations. They are forcing a choice between salmon and soil based agriculture, both of which are currently harvested for local food. If society truly sees this as a priority, then society is going to have to pay the high price tag of fewer farms and less local food production.”

WWAA Amicus Update: Supreme Court Hears Ag Lands Case

For the past year, WWAA has played a significant role in stopping commercial encroachment in agriculturally zoned land in both Skagit and King Counties. In King County, farmland is being threatened by the County’s Adult Beverage Ordinance 19030, which allows for commercial and retail businesses to operate in protected rural and agricultural areas. This Ordinance was rejected twice by the Washington State Growth Management Hearings Board (GMHB), for violating the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) and the Growth Management Act (GMA). Last summer, the Court of Appeals, Division I, overturned previous decisions by the GMHB. Along with other agricultural groups, WWAA submitted a formal Amicus Brief this spring with the Washington Supreme Court opposing Ordinance 19030. The Court accepted all six Amicus Briefs filed in opposition and agreed to hear the case.

Our case was heard by the nine justices of the WA Supreme Court on May 21. Friends of Sammamish Valley was the lead organization, and their attorney presented the case. Below is their summary of the proceeding:

“The Court’s role is to determine whether the GMHB erred when it invalidated Ordinance 19030. If the Court rules that the GMHB erred, then invalidation will be lifted. If the Court rules that the GMHB got it right, then the invalidation will remain in place. We believe that Ordinance 19030 violates GMA and King County policies by placing urban serving businesses in Rural Area and Agriculture zones. So even if the County ultimately conducts a proper environmental analysis (which they haven’t so far) the legislation is still problematic. The justices do not tip their hands during these proceedings, so it is hard to tell what they are thinking. But a couple of their questions were intriguing. Overall, we felt good about the hearing and remain hopeful.”

We expect to receive a decision from the Court within the year. The video of the Court hearing on the Adult Beverage Ordinance 19030 can be found here.

Implementation of Endangered Species Act Pesticide Mitigations Unfeasible for Many
WWAA staff recently participated in a working group to review the current EPA pesticide Bulletin Language for terrestrial and aquatic Pesticide Use Limitation Area’s (PULAs). Bulletins Live! Two (BLT) is the Web-based application to access Endangered Species Protection Bulletins (Bulletins). These Bulletins contain enforceable pesticide use limitations that are necessary to ensure a pesticide's use will not harm a species listed as threatened or endangered (listed) under the Endangered Species Act or their designated critical habitat.

The goal of the work group is to develop a regional approach for implementing pesticide Endangered Species mitigations that leverages local expertise and addresses the needs of agricultural and conservation communities. In some cases, riparian buffers, vegetation strips and other practices could be used as mitigation for applying certain pesticides on farms. WWAA joined other state agricultural groups in attendance to ensure that farmers’ voices were heard by those making decisions in this process.

“Sadly, the BLT website is very clunky and not user friendly,” said WWAA Policy Director Kara Rowe. “And, a lot of the potential mitigation requirements could be unfeasible for many farms in western Washington. We made some headway in explaining the ramifications of these limitations and will continue to make sure the farmers are heard.”
Rain a Blessing and a Curse During Planting Season
While much of the state has seen drought declarations already, it’s been a long, wet spring causing a perpetual start & stop planting cycle for some Skagit area farms. Both May and June brought rain and cool temperatures, which can make it challenging to get crops into the ground in a timely manner and give them the boost they need to thrive. Water-logged soil is not good for planting, especially potatoes. While the overall impact of this challenge is yet to be seen on harvest predictions, area farmers have been happy to see a little more sunshine recently west of the Cascades. Moderate temperatures will be helpful as the summer progresses.

The map to the right shows precipitation for the past 60 days as a percentage of the historical average (1991–2020) for the same time period. Green/blue shades indicate above-normal precipitation, while brown shades indicate below-normal precipitation. Source(s): UC Merced
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March - April 2024

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The 2024 WWAA board and staff at the annual meeting in February. From left to right are WWAA office manager Heather Teegarden, board members Mikala Staples Hughes, Dan Gundersen, Aaront Taylor, Torey Wilson, podcaster Brandy Cruz, board members Jenn Smith, Owen Peth, Tyler Bruem, and WWAA policy director Kara Rowe (not pictured: board member Diane Patterson). The board honored former president Curtis Johnson by commemorating their board room with his name. 

After 80 years, WWAA still works to elevate the voice of its farmers through proactive solutions

Healthy businesses are the key to a healthy region, and for more than 150 years agriculture has been a critical industry of this area. WWAA is a champion of agricultural opportunity in northwest Washington. By cultivating a collaborative environment, we help agriculture flourish and community prosperity to rise. In the past 12 months, we have gone through an evolution at the staff and board levels. We have intergenerational men and women who want to both honor the past and protect the region for future generations. In that spirit, we also want to solve problems. We have worked in a thoughtful manner the past few months to meet two demands from our members:

  • elevate the voice of farmers at tables of influence, and 

  • work to find solutions in the region that protect farms and productive farmland.

We have taken this challenge seriously, and quite appropriately, as we celebrate our 80th anniversary as an organization. As our predecessors did, we continue to fight for private property rights and the right to farm in northwest Washington. We believe that the future success of farming in this region is dependent on a grassroots, multi-person effort that generates from multiple perspectives, strong relationships and sincere honesty.

WWAA Amicus update: Supreme Court agrees to review King County commercial development on ag lands

While working to protect Ag-NRL lands in Skagit County, WWAA continued its work in King County this winter. Farmland is being threatened by King County’s Adult Beverage Ordinance 19030, which allows for commercial and retail businesses to operate in protected rural and agricultural areas.

WWAA submitted a formal Amicus Brief on April 5th with the Washington Supreme Court opposing Ordinance 19030. The Court accepted all six Amicus Briefs filed in opposition. Briefs can be found here, and the Oral Hearing date is May 21.

This Ordinance was rejected twice by the Washington State Growth Management Hearings Board (GMHB), for violating the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) and the Growth Management Act (GMA). Last summer, the Court of Appeals, Division I, overturned previous decisions by the GMHB. 

In September, WWAA worked with its legal team to file an amicus memo that supports the Friends of Sammamish Valley and Futurewise Petitions for Review to the Washington State Supreme Court in July 2023, requesting review of the Court of Appeals Div I opinion. In early December, the Supreme Court accepted the WWAA memo along with three others, and voted unanimously to review the FoSV appeal.

WWAA increases voice at Skagit Watershed Council

For the past year, we have been working to build key relationships that can expand and elevate the voice of WWAA and its members. We know that myopic state proposals to address salmon recovery have been a source of contention and stress among farmers for generations. We also believe that the spirit of relationship and collaboration is the key to solving problems. This is why we recently increased our role at the Skagit Watershed Council (SWC). The SWC plays a key role in salmon recovery efforts in the region, and stands on the foundation of voluntary efforts.

WWAA was a founding member of the SWC, and has served on the Lead Entity Citizen Committee (LECC) for many years. This committee’s main function is to review and provide a final ranking of habitat projects proposed based on their merits as measured by community and economic criteria. The LECC is the formal group that funds projects through the Washington State Recreation and Conservation Office (RCO), Salmon Recovery Funding Board (SRFB). In recent years, Mark Knutzen has represented WWAA on that committee. Recently, after months of collaboration with others, we were able to not only retain Mark’s presence on this committee, but also add WWAA’s Vice President, Owen Peth, to the group. Additionally, we were able to add our Policy Director, Kara Rowe, to the SWC board of directors. This increased presence will ensure that local agriculture’s voice is elevated in its purest form at one of the regions’ most influential tables on salmon recovery.

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The 2024 WWAA spring social and legislative update was successful!  State Senators Keith Wagoner and Ron Muzzall gave their summaries of the 2024 legislative session. Attendees also heard policy updates from staff, and a presentation by the Washington State Department of Agriculture.

WWAA leaders meet with Skagit River System Cooperative staff

In addition to our work developing relationships at the SWC, we have also been working to increase our knowledge and understanding of the Skagit River System Cooperative (SRSC). The SRSC provides natural resource management services for the Sauk-Suiattle Indian Tribe and the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community. SRSC works to actively improve fisheries management within their usual and accustomed fishing areas. WWAA leaders believe that relationship building is key to protecting the future of agriculture in the region. The government and lawyers can’t build those relationships for us, only farmers can make that progress themselves. Through many meetings, we have developed a better understanding of the SRSC, its staff, and their goals. We have also educated SRSC staff about the priorities of our members and the need for productive farmland protection.

WWAA opposes Earthjustice TMDL notice

WWAA stands firm in its opposition to assertions made and the scope of the recent Earthjustice and Swinomish Indian Tribal Community’s 60-Day Intent to Sue over TMDL’s in the Lower Skagit River watershed. We disagree with many statements made within the Intent, especially the agricultural burden. We believe agriculture carries an unfair portion of the scrutiny compared to urban development. We also challenge that the Washington Department of Ecology has a relevant enforcement authority to require the establishment of buffers. We oppose the taking of private lands through condemnation or eminent domain by the county, state or federal government and will fight to protect every inch of productive farmland within the region.

WWAA supports Voluntary Stewardship Program in Skagit and beyond

WWAA has worked diligently to support the Voluntary Stewardship Program (VSP), which is managed by new Skagit County staff. VSP provides funding and technical assistance incentives to agricultural landowners who implement best management practices and natural resource enhancement on their property. VSP is the alternative, non-regulatory approach to protecting Critical Areas in Skagit County while maintaining agricultural productivity. Owen Peth and Mikala Staples Hughes serve on the VSP Watershed Advisory Group, and Kara Rowe has been helping staff on an as-needed basis. We believe the success of this program will be critical to avoiding heavy-handed, one-size-fits-all regulations in the future.

WWAA submits comments to USACE on McGlinn Island Jetty rehabilitation

In March, WWAA submitted formal comments to the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) supporting the replacement or rehabilitation of the jetty. Nearly a year ago, SRSC found that the jetty was killing and injuring hundreds of juvenile salmon each year. This is discouraging for all citizens in the region, especially farmers whose lands are being targeted for Chinook habitat and recovery. This is potentially one of the most important projects to help recover Chinook salmon in the Puget Sound region, and we encouraged USACE to move forward expeditiously on jetty restoration.

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McGlinn Island Jetty, photo courtesy of US Army Corps of Engineers

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