Statewide Riparian Buffer Bills 2023
Another legislative session means another round of riparian discussions. While less offensive than the set of bills that were run in 2022, the new legislation (HB 1215 & SB 5266) coming from the Governor's office and Rep. Lekanoff and Sen. Shewmake is still lacking some vital points for agriculture.
Riparian Grant Program. The State Conservation Commission (Commission) is directed to establish and administer a riparian grant program to fund the protection and restoration of critical riparian management zones.
Salmon Riparian Habitat Policy Task Force. A salmon riparian habitat policy task force is established in the Governor's Salmon Recovery Office. The task force must continue the work of the facilitated discussions on riparian habitat recommendations that were funded through the 2022 State Supplemental Operating Budget. The task force includes representation from the following entities:
federally recognized tribes
state natural resources agencies including Ecology, Commerce, WDFW, the Department of Transportation, the Department of Agriculture, the State Conservation Commission, Puget Sound Partnership, Recreation and Conservation Office, and the Department of Natural Resources;
agricultural and livestock producers;
salmon recovery organizations;
commercial and recreational fisher organizations;
forestry and agriculture organizations;
Interagency Riparian Committee. An interagency riparian committee is created within the Governor's Salmon Recovery Office. The interagency riparian committee is responsible for interagency coordination on riparian protection and restoration, including meeting on a regular basis to accomplish the following tasks, among others:
sharing data, mapping, monitoring, and adaptation strategies;
developing a shared strategy for riparian protection and coordination;
cooperating on riparian restoration projects and funding; and developing jointly with Indian tribes a permanent monitoring and adaptive management program that builds on the work done by the Commission as part of the riparian grant program
WWAA TALKING POINTS
We OPPOSE this legislation as written because:
There is no language referencing or preserving the Voluntary Stewardship Program (36.70A.702 Revised Code of Washington) as a policy statement. We ask that rather than create a new program, you fully fund and enhance VSP.
Processes and committees established by HB 1215 are currently embedded within VSP, and offer ample opportunity for technical feedback and direction to both watershed and implementation.
Enacting duplicative restoration or stewardship programs does little to improve coordination, funding, and momentum.
Agricultural infrastructure such as irrigation canals, levees, dikes and drainage ditches must be excluded from any riparian zones.
The reference to and reliance on WDFW’s Riparian Ecosystems Volumes 1 and 2 as the “best available science” is inappropriate and creates ambiguity with respect to riparian habitat regulation on agricultural lands.
Requiring County Conservation Districts to share landowner data with regulatory entities and other organizations is a breach of trust and a violation of voluntary goodwill.
Without a clear and mutually agreed upon definition of success among stakeholders there will be very little trust gained within the private land and farming community.
The funding for a program of this magnitude is too small as the program will be expected to reimburse farmers for land value, future production loss, and the management of riparian areas.
We require a WSDA representative on the interagency riparian committee.
Ecology, Commerce, and the WDFW must coordinate with each other and with other agencies on an effectiveness, monitoring, enforcement, and compliance program for critical area ordinances and other compliance with respect to protection of existing, fully functioning riparian critical areas. The interagency riparian committee includes the following members, among others:
Governor's Salmon Recovery Office
State Conservation Commission
The interagency riparian committee must invite engagement with, and coordinate work with, federally recognized tribes. The interagency riparian committee must also engage with nonprofit and business organizations.
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.