WWAA Comments on L&I Ambient Heat Rule
In conjunction with multiple state agricultural groups, WWAA recently made formal comments on the Department of Labor & Industries Ambient Heat Exposure rulemaking process. Their intention is to update the requirements for occupational heat exposure hazards from high ambient temperatures in all industries, including outdoor and indoor exposures. Currently they are focusing on outdoor exposures. WWAA has many concerns surrounding this change of rule, including the one-size-fits-all approach and lowering of "trigger temperatures" to 80°F. You can see the State Farm Bureau's comparison chart and review the WWAA formal comments. We encourage you to submit comments on behalf of your farm. We have until 5:00pm on May 11, 2023 to submit comments.
Skagit Mediation Money
The Legislature also included $350,000 over the biennium for a conflict resolution process mediated by the federal mediation and conciliation service. According to the budget, this funding must be used by the department to facilitate meetings between Skagit tribes, drainage and irrigation districts, and state and federal resource agencies and support the technical work necessary to resolve conflict. Invited parties must include the National Marine Fisheries Service, Washington State Department of Agriculture, Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife, Swinomish Indian Tribal Community, Upper Skagit Indian Tribe, Sauk-Suiattle Indian Tribe, and Skagit Drainage and Irrigation Districts Consortium LLC. A report documenting meeting notes, points of resolution, and recommendations must be provided to the legislature no later than June 30, 2025.
Washington Legislature passes budgets
Many items included that may impact western agriculture
Still awaiting the Governor's final signature, state legislators passed an increase to many state programs that will potentially effect western Washington farmers during the 2023-2025 biennium. Last weekend, the Legislature passed a $69.2 billion state operating budget, which includes more than $4 billion in new spending. They also passed nearly $9 billion in capital construction projects.
The largest note for many are farmers, is the increase in the State Conservation Commission's (SCC) operating and capital budgets. For some comparison, the SCC's operating budget will increase from roughly $40 million to $97 million, and their capital budget will jump from $30 million to $65 million. These increases will be distributed through local conservation districts. The Voluntary Stewardship Program (VSP) will be funded at $15 million over the biennium. Here are a few other line items that may affect area farmers from the operating budget:
Office of the Governor
$480,000 for the governor to convene tribes, local governments, agricultural producers, commercial and recreational fisher organizations, business organizations, salmon recovery organizations, forestry and agricultural organizations, and environmental organizations to participate in a process facilitated by an independent entity to develop recommendations on proposed changes in policy and spending priorities to improve riparian habitat to ensure salmon and steelhead recovery. The independent entity must develop recommendations on furthering riparian funding and policy, including but not limited to, strategies that can attract private investment in improving riparian habitat, and developing a regulatory or compensation strategy if voluntary programs do not achieve concrete targets.
Department of Ecology
$2,256,000 for the department to provide technical assistance to landowners and local governments to promote voluntary compliance, implement best management practices, and support implementation of water quality clean-up plans in shellfish growing areas, agricultural areas, forestlands, and other types of land uses, including technical assistance focused on protection and restoration of critical riparian management areas important for salmon recovery.
Department of Fish & Wildlife
$997,000 for fiscal year 2024 and $997,000 for fiscal year 2025 to continue the assessment of riparian ecosystems. The assessment must include identifying common statewide definitions of terms for riparian usage, recommendations to improve data sharing, and identifying any gaps in vegetated cover relative to a science-based standard for a fully functioning riparian ecosystem and comparing the status and gaps to water temperature impairments, known fish passage barriers, and status of salmonid stocks.
Recreation and Conservation Office
$398,000 to establish a riparian coordinator position within the governor's salmon recovery office to work with state agencies to improve project coordination, develop common metrics across programs, and consolidate data platforms.
Department of Labor & Industries
$3,774,000 and $890,000 for the creation of an agriculture compliance unit within the division of occupational safety and health. The compliance unit will perform compliance inspections and provide bilingual outreach to agricultural workers and employers.
Pink flags show how extreme buffers impact local farms and food.
"Site potential tree height" buffers means 235 feet on each side of a fish bearing waterway (streams, rivers, lakes, ponds, wetlands, even drainage ditches) in some areas. This massive amount could lead to a major reduction of farmland and will eliminate some farms.
BUFFERS WILL IMPACT THE FOOD SUPPLY AND LEAD TO...
Large no touch buffers will remove thousands of acres from farm production throughout the state, and may eliminate an estimated 20% of Western Washington agricultural lands.
With the reduction of land there will be a reduction of farms in northwest Washington. This means fewer small, unique farmers offering local products.
MORE URBAN ZONES
Extreme buffers will lead to a sell off of agricultural land in northwest Washington. Those sales will lead to urbanization, not wildlife refuge.
Farmers in Skagit, Snohomish, and Whatcom counties must be precise with their planning due to crop specifications and scarcity of land. The profit margin for farms in Western Washington is 1-5%, which leaves very little room for error and makes every inch of farmland valuable.
Skagit County is home to only about 80,000 acres of farmable land, managed by roughly 1,000 farming families in 10 to 100 acre “chunks” divided by irrigation and drainage ditches and small land parcels. Farmers here grow more than 80 different crops, and rotational farming allows farmers to break up disease, insect, and tillage cycles naturally. Every inch of farmable soil matters to the community and local food supply.
FARMLAND IS HABITAT
A potato farmer who uses best management practices has land that is free of noxious weeds, urban runoff, and road pollution. Farms protect salmon and wildlife better than any other use on that land, especially urban zones.
The land below sits along a slough and includes a small local farm.
If a 235 foot buffer was implemented, the small farm would be nearly eliminated.
Other Current Issues
WWAA services support local and statewide agricultural viability, through both direct leadership and indirect participation. Natural resources conservation and recovery initiatives, agricultural research and extension programs, and agricultural preservation actions dominate our work on a daily and annual basis. Our organization’s diverse membership, coupled with this region’s complexity, create for an immense and ongoing list of commitments and services/activities.
Much of WWAA’s support for this community is hidden in the background of dike, drainage, and irrigation infrastructure and natural resource projects/stewardship seen throughout the Skagit Valley and Delta.
Western Washington Agricultural Association withdraws from DFI & TFI
Recently, on behalf of its membership, the Western Washington Agricultural Association (WWAA) board of directors voted unanimously to withdraw from Skagit Delta Tidegates and Fish Initiative (TFI).
WWAA leadership believes the recent decisions by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and United States Army Corps of Engineers to reinitiate Section 7 Endangered Species Act consultation of the TFI Implementation Agreement was procedurally improper and without cause. Under these circumstances, WWAA believes that it is no longer in the best interest of its farmers to continue to participate in the Agreement. WWAA has detailed its position and clearly explained that the agencies’ decisions were neither warranted nor justified based on the Notice of Intent to sue by the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community (SITC).
Also, after thorough review of current circumstances, WWAA has elected to withdraw from its professional service agreements with the twelve Skagit County Dike and/or Drainage Districts (Districts) that are signatory to the TFI. WWAA has also withdrawn from the Skagit Drainage and Fish Initiative (DFI), and terminated its role and participation in District business.
“This is a positive step on behalf of our membership and the farmers of Northwest Washington. It allows our organization to focus on advocating for agriculture in other arenas,” explained WWAA’s President Jenn Smith (Mt. Vernon). “Based on recent actions taken to realign District priorities, we decided they are best represented by their commissioners from this point forward.”
“In 2006 our leadership entered into negotiations to help improve salmon health with our partners in local, state, federal, and tribal agencies,” said WWAA’s Executive Director Brandon Roozen. “Even as SITC removed themselves from the formal seat given to them more than a decade ago, we stayed to do our part. Our hope is that elected leaders and resource agencies can create more effective coordination with the Districts, and we can continue to be the voice for agriculture. This will allow us to concentrate primarily on protecting our farmers through advocacy and by fighting poor policy ideas. Actions taken by SITC and the recent state legislative session proved that we have a lot of work ahead of us to protect agriculture in Northwest Washington from harmful ideas coming from Olympia and beyond.”
WWAA has provided Districts with local, state, and federal regulatory and environmental support for infrastructure and water management since 2005. It also helped create the DFI & TFI and served as a signatory partner. WWAA continues to support the implementation of both programs and will remain engaged in agricultural topics and policies associated with agricultural infrastructure based on its mission and support of the agriculture community.