A collaborative process that helps Washington communities ensure healthy landscapes and strong farms today and for the future.
The Voluntary Stewardship Program (VSP) is an incentive-based approach for Washington counties to protect fragile and/or hazardous natural resources - referred to as "critical areas" - while promoting agricultural viability. Prior to the creation of VSP in 2011, regulation under the Growth Management Act (GMA) was the main tool for counties to ensure protection of critical areas on agricultural land. VSP was created to give counties an alternative to regulatory approaches.
Twenty-seven counties in the state have opted in to VSP, including Whitman County, which received approval for its VSP Work Plan in 2017. The work plan is a locally driven watershed plan that includes voluntary, incentive-based tools to protect critical areas and maintain and enhance the viability of agriculture. The work plan was 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 VSP could include significant changes to 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.
Whitman County VSP voluntarily collects previous and ongoing stewardship data from all interested landowners in order to document VSP participation and the importance of agriculture viability.
What are critical areas?
Frequently flooded areas
Critical aquifer recharge areas
Geologically hazardous areas
Fish & wildlife habitat conservation areas
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 it meets 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 a VSP program, a watershed work plan is required, and it must contain goals and benchmarks for the protection and enhancement of critical areas. The Whitman County VSP Work Plan was submitted by the work group in August 2017 and was 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 a list of critical areas subject to VSP, an outreach plan, and goals for the county. You can view the Whitman County VSP work plan here.
How is Palouse Conservation District involved?
Whitman County selected Palouse CD as the lead agency to direct the VSP process. District staff facilitate the work under the direction of the local VSP work group. To view a list of Whitman County VSP contacts, click here.
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 meets the benchmarks. If a majority of area farmers participate, then the goals will be met.
What is the benefit to individual farmers?
VSP requires that the viability of agriculture is maintained. Under VSP, the future of farming in our county is secured because the program prioritizes both the viability of agriculture and the protection of critical areas.
Will my individual information be shared?
Conservation practices that are implemented will be tallied in an aggregate fashion, not by individual. Under VSP, protection and progress are measured on a county-wide basis. No personally identifiable information is ever reported without the express permission of the landowner.