VOLUNTARY STEWARDSHIP PROGRAM
WHAT IS THE VOLUNTARY STEWARDSHIP PROGRAM?
The Voluntary Stewardship Program (VSP) is a new incentive based approach for Washington counties to participate in a watershed-based, collaborative planning process that protects critical areas while promoting agricultural viability. Prior to the creation of VSP in 2011, the Growth Management Act and Critical Area Ordinance were the main tools for counties to ensure protection of critical areas on agricultural land. VSP was created under the GMA to give counties an alternative to traditional approaches.
Whitman County is one of 28 counties that has opted in to VSP and has received funding to develop a VSP Work Plan. The work plan is a locally driven watershed plan including voluntary, incentive-based tools to protect critical areas and maintain and enhance the viability of agriculture, put together by a work group representing key stakeholders and agricultural groups within Whitman County.
The Voluntary Stewardship Program works under the assumption that complex environmental problems can be solved through voluntary cooperation. The long-term impact of the VSP could include significant changes in how environmentally critical areas are managed on agricultural land, and will be applicable to many similar challenges where top-down methods are less likely to be effective than locally driven, incentive-focused approaches.
WHAT ARE CRITICAL AREAS?
Areas inundated or saturated by surface water or ground water
These fragile ecosystems serve a number of important beneficial functions. Wetlands assist in the reduction of erosion, siltation, flooding, ground & surface water pollution, and provide wildlife, plant, and fisheries habitats.
Frequently Flooded Areas
Areas subject to 1% or greater chance of flooding every year
These areas perform important hydrologic functions but also present potential risk to person or property. Floodplains are ideal locations for fish habitat restoration.
Geologic Hazard Areas
Areas susceptible to erosion, sliding, earthquakes, and other geologic events
Critical Aquifer Recharge Areas
Areas having a critical effect on aquifers used for potable water
Areas that are subject to contamination or are susceptible to reduced recharge are particularly important.
Fish & Wildlife Conservation Areas
Areas managed to maintain populations of fish & wildlife
Guided by the Washington State Department of Fish & Wildlife's Priority Habitats & Species list, to maintain species in suitable habitats within their natural geographic distribution so that isolated sub-populations are not created.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
What are stewardship practices?
Stewardship practices are broadly defined as any practice that, when implemented, further protects critical areas directly or indirectly, and maintains or improves agricultural viability whether or not they meet a Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) conservation practice or other standard recognized by VSP.
What is addressed in the VSP Work Plan?
In order to establish the program, a watershed work plan is required and must contain goals and benchmarks for the protection and enhancement of critical areas. The VSP Work Plan for Whitman County must also “maintain and enhance” the viability of agriculture in the county to receive approval. The VSP Work Plan must be approved by the Directors of the Washington State Conservation Commission, Department of Fish and Wildlife, Department of Agriculture and Department of Ecology. The county work plan includes, among other things, a list of critical areas subject to VSP, and outreach plan, and goals for the county.
Visit Whitman County VSP for more details.
Are farmers required to participate?
No, voluntary participation is a key element of VSP. There are no requirements for individuals; rather, there is a requirement that the county meet the benchmarks. If a majority of the area farmers participate, then the goals will be met.
What is the benefit to individual farmers?
VSP requires that the viability of agriculture to be maintained. Under VSP the future of farming is more secure in our county, because it sets forth as a given that the viability of agriculture is just as important a consideration as protection of critical areas.
How is Palouse Conservation District involved?
Whitman County has selected the district as the lead agency to direct the VSP Process. District staff will be facilitating the work under the direction of the local VSP work group.
Will my individual information be shared?
It is important to note that the conservation practices being implemented will be tallied in an aggregate fashion, NOT by individual landowner. Under VSP, protection and progress are measured on a county-wide basis. No personal identifying information is ever reported without express permission of the landowner.
For more information, please contact:
Bradley Johnson | 509-552-9562 | BradleyJ@PalouseCD.org