Forterra and Kittitas County permanently conserved Triple Creek Ranch with the purchase of a 260-acre working-farmland conservation easement, the largest completed as of April 17, 2012 in Kittitas County. With the easement in place, the long time family-owned farm outside of Ellensburg, WA can continue its agricultural operations in perpetuity without worrying about rural residential development pressures. In 2007, landowners Roma and Vernon Stokes approached Forterra with a request to help them stave off the constant offers from developers wanting to subdivide their property for rural residential development. Forterra agreed to help, recognizing the importance of Triple Creek Ranch as a working farm with high quality riparian habitat, uninterruptible water rights, high water quality, important wildlife corridors and historic family ownership.
“We are very excited about the successful conservation of Triple Creek,” said Jill Scheffer-Arango, Forterra Senior Managing Conservation Director. “It was a long process requiring hard work with a wide variety of partners, but we kept at it and were able to help the Stokes family fulfill their dream to protect their family farm.”
The conservation of Triple Creek Ranch is part of Forterra’s mission to conserve 200,000 acres of working farmland in Kittitas County. The work is guided by The Cascade Agenda, a 100-year vision for the Central Cascade region’s economies, communities and lands. Triple Creek’s acquisition was completed with grants from the Natural Resources Conservation Service Farm and Ranchland Preservation Program and the State of Washington Recreation and Conservation Office’s Farmland Preservation program. Both programs are critical to the future of farming in Washington.
Triple Creek Ranch has been a working farm since late 1800’s. The Stokes bought it in the 1940’s and it has remained in the same family ever since. Over the years it has been a cattle ranch and grown crops such as alfalfa, hay and grain. Before the purchase of the conservation easement, the property was zoned for thirteen 20-acre residential parcels. The conservation easement eliminates the possibility of development on all but 5 acres that already have homes built on them.
“Bringing this project together took longer than we expected,” said Vernon Stokes, owner of Triple Creek Ranch, “But we stuck with Forterra and the process and were ultimately able to make sure that the farm we love will stay a farm for our kids, grandkids and great-grandkids.”
Roma Stokes said, “We want our family to be able to enjoy the farm forever. It means much to us that we are able to leave this legacy for them.”
Conservation easements allow land owners to realize the development value of their land while retaining ownership for continued agricultural production. Kitittas County and Forterra will co-hold the conservation easement on Triple Creek Ranch and the Stokes family will continue to be the underlying fee holder.
“Conserving working farmland is a priority for the citizens of Kittitas County,” said Kittitas County Commissioner Paul Jewell. “Our rural way of life and economic base depend on maintaining agriculture and we need viable farmland to stay in production in order to ensure that future. Purchasing conservation easements on working farmland in partnership with private entities, like Forterra is an excellent way to ensure the continued viability of our agricultural economy.”
Kirk Holmes, Director of Public Works for Kittitas County, said, “This kind of public/private partnership is what we need to ensure landowners in the County have options to keep their land in working agriculture. We have the transfer of development rights program, but we also need a way for landowners to access public funding for the future of farming. This project is a great example of that kind of partnership.”
Forterra is an unconventional land trust that works across Washington’s communities and landscapes, from the ranches and shrub-steppe of the Yakima basin, to the estuaries, farms and forests of Washington’s coast, reaching more than 100 counties, cities, towns and rural communities. Working cooperatively with people and nature, Forterra drives land stewardship, management and planning; innovative programs and policies; farming and forestry approaches; community ownership opportunities; and development solutions. Visit www.forterra.org.