Farm News

Court of Appeals Ruling Illustrates Need for Voluntary Stewardship Program

Ag Activities NOT Protected Under Current Process; BUT VSP WILL Protect Ag Activities


A December 27, 2011 ruling from the Division I Court of Appeals illustrates the need – and advantage of counties choosing the Voluntary Stewardship Program (VSP) as an alternative to the traditional Critical Areas Ordinance (CAO) update process that counties otherwise must face. Read more about this ruling below.


ALL counties must update their CAO related to agriculture, regardless of their status as full-planning counties under the GMA.  Thirty counties face a July 2012 deadline to review and, if necessary revise their CAO related to agriculture. Nine counties have deadlines ranging from 2014 to 2017, depending on when they last did a full CAO update.  Even with later updates, those counties still must choose the VSP in January to ensure they have the dual benefit of county protection against appeals and protection of agricultural activities.


The VSP advantages are simple: (1) there is no provision for appeal, and (2) agricultural activities are protected.


The Voluntary Stewardship Program is just that – VOLUNTARY.  Nobody would be required to participate in conservation program or stewardship plans.  But the built-in process would involve determining what – if anything – might need to be done to protect critical areas and agricultural viability in light of all other existing regulations, plans, activities and efforts.


For the first time, agricultural viability is as important as protecting critical areas.  And the VSP process will recognize the good stewardship practices farmers are already doing.


Contrast this with the existing process, where an appeal can lead to millions of dollars of legal costs that do nothing for agricultural viability or environmental protection.  The Washington State Association of Counties has reported that Skagit County spent $5-6 million on one update cycle due to years of litigation.


Here is a quick comparison of the two “systems” available to counties, which have only until January 22, 2012 to choose the VSP or remain under the current system.


Existing Update Process

Voluntary Stewardship Program

Appeals to Hearings Board and Courts over:

  • Determination of Necessity to Update
  • Public Process
  • Inclusion of Best Available Science
  • Extent of Regulatory Measures
  • Monitoring & Adaptive Management
  • Etc.   Etc.

Process not Subject to Appeal

No Explicit Protection for Agricultural Activities

Agricultural Activities are Protected

Based on Regulatory Measures

Voluntary Program

Farm Plans Could Be Required

Farm Plans Cannot Be Required

No Credit for Existing Voluntary Programs

Built-in Analysis Would Show Existing Good Stewardship Activities of Farmers

Regulates According to the Possibility of Harm

Built-in Analysis Identifies IF Actual Remedies are Necessary – and Where


Under our existing GMA CAO process, the hearings board and courts ruled that farmers in Whatcom County did not need a permit for a conversion of pasture land to blueberries, but “all clearing and grading activities to prepare the parcel for the planting of blueberries is governed by the critical areas ordinance and such clearing and grading shall not be done without first being subject to county action under the critical areas ordinance.”


So, they didn’t need a permit to change crops, they just needed a permit to prepare the ground to change crops.


Wow!  What a tortured leap in logic!


Is there a better example of WHY we need counties to choose the VOLUNTARY Stewardship Program as an ALTERNATIVE to RCW 36.70A.040, the source of all of these rulings under the GMA?


The VSP specifically protects agricultural activities, which includes the change of crops in the definition.


In recent years, we have seen the existing system result in mandatory buffers, protection of species (such as Caribou in Ferry County) that have never been seen in a county, proposed permits for conversion of agricultural crops, and even protections for species (such as pocket gophers in Thurston County) that interfere with construction and maintenance of buildings.


Washington Farm Bureau has led property rights initiatives to address these issues.


The VSP protects the rights of farmers to conduct agricultural activities – and it protects counties from lawsuits that could force counties into adopting burdensome and expensive regulations.


That is why Washington Farm Bureau, along with 34 other agricultural organizations, has urged every county to choose the VSP as the means to protect agriculture and allow voluntary measures to be deployed across our landscape.


If you have any questions about this program, you can contact Dan Wood at or 360 870-6018 or John Stuhlmiller at or 360 870-6017.

L&I moves workers’ comp public rate hearing to Renton Pavilion

October 19, 2011 – 3:39pm Oct. 19, 2011
TUMWATER – The Department of Labor & Industries is relocating the venue for its workers’ comp public rate hearing on Wednesday, Oct. 26.
Originally scheduled for L&I’s Tukwila location, the hearing will now be held at 1:30 p.m. in Renton at the Renton Pavilion, 233 Burnett Ave. South.
Parking is available in the garage and the first two hours are free.
The larger venue ensures the hearing can accommodate all those wishing to comment on the 2012 proposed rate.
In September, L&I announced a proposed average rate increase of 2.5 percent to workers’ compensation premiums in 2012. Each year, L&I must review premium rates and make adjustments to cover the anticipated costs of claims that will be filed in the next year.
The proposed rate increase is an average for all Washington employers. Individual employers will see their rates go up or down, depending on their recent claims history and any changes in the frequency and cost of claims in their industry.
Other public hearings on the proposed rates will be held in:
•       Vancouver, Oct. 25, 9 a.m., Red Lion Hotel Vancouver at the Quay
•       Bellingham, Oct. 26, 1 p.m., Bellingham Public Library
•       Richland, Oct. 27, 1 p.m., Red Lion Hotel Richland Hanford House
•       Spokane Valley, Oct. 28, 10 a.m., Spokane CenterPlace Event Center
•       Tumwater, Oct. 28, 10 a.m., L&I Headquarters
More information regarding the rate proposal is available at Rates & Risk Classes. The final rates will be adopted in early December and go into effect Jan. 1, 2012.
Media contact: Selena Davis, 360-902-5183.