Working with landowners for a more sustainable Snohomish
What do strawberry rhubarb pie, farming, and fish habitat have in common? They are all important to conservation and community building. They also featured prominently in a workshop series that Forterra co-hosted in December with the Snohomish Conservation District, American Farmland Trust, and NOAA Restoration Center.
Taking place in three sessions around Snohomish County, 40 farmers and rural landowners joined the workshops to learn about, discuss improving conservation incentive programs, and enjoy some delicious pie! The workshops focused on the Tualco Valley, Woods Creek, and Pilchuck River watersheds—important farming communities with vital fish habitat.
Landowners were drawn to the workshops for a variety of reasons. Some wanted to learn about financial compensation for permanently conserving portions of their land. Many landowners reminisced of a time when salmon were plentiful in local creeks and wanted to help improve fish habitat. Several landowners were surprised to learn that they could save money by enrolling in the state’s current use taxation program.
There are at least a dozen voluntary programs in Washington that help landowners accomplish those goals. These programs provide financial compensation to landowners to restore degraded land, permanently protect land from development, and implement improved land management practices. With positive effects on the surrounding ecosystem, providing a revenue stream for these activities benefits both landowners and the public alike. For example, a farmer that restores buffer areas by planting native vegetation along the river can help improve water quality and fish habitat, while also receiving a new stream of revenue to supplement traditional crop production.
Navigating the range of programs, funding sources, and requirements available can be challenging to landowners. Our workshops provided a basic overview of ten different programs that support farmland protection and habitat restoration. Forterra and the Snohomish Conservation District provided follow-up assistance directly to individual landowners.
With the Puget Sound region facing increasing development pressures, Forterra is committed to keeping our rivers clean and healthy while keeping our farms productive and prosperous. Guided by the Cascade Agenda, we’re creating new market-based tools to increase conservation and restoration of our natural resources. We’ve advanced transfer of development rights programs in King, Pierce and Snohomish Counties that offer incentives to developers in exchange for purchasing development right credits from farm and forest land. This provides revenue to landowners to keep farms and forests in production while encouraging growth in areas where it’s desired.
In addition to providing resources to landowners to facilitate easier access to programs, the workshop series also identified obstacles to landowner participation. In open discussions, we learned about land management challenges and farmers shared what program changes would help them. Responses indicate that finding out about programs can be challenging, and that payments might not be high enough to encourage participation. Moving forward, this information can be used to improve the effectiveness of new and existing programs. By identifying barriers to participation, Forterra can work to create new programs that are better structured to meet landowner needs. By working together, we can come up with new ways to protect water quality, restore salmon, and provide incentives to farmers to keep producing the strawberries and rhubarb that go into our pie.