FAQ's

What are Critical Areas?

The VSP Work Plan must detail how Columbia County will protect critical areas while maintaining and enhancing the viability of agriculture in the watershed. The definition of protection in the legislation for the Voluntary Stewardship Program indicates that “Protect” or “protecting” means to prevent the degradation of functions and values existing as of July 22, 2011.

 

Critical areas are specifically defined under GMA (RCW 36.70A.030) and include fish and wildlife habitat conservation areas, wetlands, frequently flooded areas, geologically hazardous areas, and critical aquifer recharge areas used for potable water.  For more specific information on each type of critical area, click here.

What are some examples of voluntary measures to protect or enhance critical areas?
  • Participation in VSP conservation practices is maintained or increased over 10 years
  • Stems per acre (tree/shrub density) in critical areas and adjacent buffer areas are maintained or increased.
  • Habitat for complementary wildlife species is maintained or increased (e.g., pollinators, raptors, bats, etc.).
  • Sheet and rill erosion is reduced, such as through conservation practices and management of fire danger.
What are the differences between VSP and the current Growth Management regulations?
Existing GMA
Is compulsory
Mandated requirements from state
Can feel antagonistic between County and landowners
Focuses upon ag land designations
By individual land parcel
Uses buffers to protect critical areas and voluntary programs
Protection of critical areas through regulatory buffers combined with enforcement program
Neutral position
Uses buffers to protect critical areas
Neutral position
Based on established buffers
Enforcement triggered by land use activity or development
Adopted and defended by County
VSP
Is voluntary
Work plan developed by stakeholder group
Encourages and fosters a spirit of cooperation and partnership between landowners and county
Focuses on agricultural activities
By watershed or river reach
Uses landowners’ stewardship plans
Focus is on critical area function rather than per parcel
Concerned with viability of ag
Uses goals and benchmarks
Ensure outreach and technical assistance is provided to agricultural operators
Based on measurable objectives
that are monitored
Monitoring and reporting
Adopted and defended by S.C.C.
What are the duties of the Watershed Work Group?

The VSP legislation at RCW 36.70A.720 specifically outlines the duties of the Work Group and requirements of this VSP Watershed Work Plan (Plan). These are:
(1) A watershed group designated by a county under RCW 36.70A.715 must develop a work plan to protect critical areas while maintaining the viability of agriculture in the watershed. The work plan must include goals and benchmarks for the protection and enhancement of critical areas. In
developing and implementing the work plan, the watershed group must:
(a) Review and incorporate applicable water quality, watershed management, farmland protection, and species recovery data and plans;
(b) Seek input from tribes, agencies, and stakeholders;
(c) Develop goals for participation by agricultural operators conducting commercial and noncommercial agricultural activities in the watershed necessary to meet the protection and enhancement benchmarks of the work plan;
(d) Ensure outreach and technical assistance is provided to agricultural operators in the watershed;
(e) Create measurable benchmarks that, within ten years after the receipt of funding, are designed to result in (i) the protection of critical area functions and values and (ii) the enhancement of critical area functions and values through the voluntary, incentive‐based measures;
(f) Designate the entity or entities that will provide technical assistance;
(g) Work with the entity providing technical assistance to ensure that individual stewardship plans contribute to the goals and benchmarks for protection;
(h) Incorporate into the work plan any existing developmental regulations relied upon to achieve the goals and benchmarks for protection;
(i) Establish baseline monitoring for:

(i) Participation activities and implementation of the voluntary
stewardship plans and projects;

(ii) stewardship activities; and

(iii) the effects on critical areas and agriculture relevant to the protection and enhancement benchmarks developed for the watershed;

(j) Conduct periodic evaluations, institute adaptive management, and provide a written report of the status of plans and accomplishments to the county and to the commission within sixty days after the end of each biennium.

What are the goals of VSP?

The goals of the VSP are to:

  • Promote plans to protect and enhance critical areas where agricultural activities are conducted, while maintaining and improving the long‐term viability of agriculture in the state of Washington and reducing the conversion of farmland to other uses,
  • Focus and maximize voluntary incentive programs to encourage good riparian and ecosystem stewardship as an alternative to historic approaches used to protect critical areas,
  • Leverage existing resources by relying upon existing work and plans in counties and local watersheds, as well as existing state and federal programs to the maximum extent practicable to achieve program goals,
  • Encourage and foster a spirit of cooperation and partnership among county, tribal, environmental, and agricultural interests to better assure program success, and
  • Improve compliance with other laws designed to protect water quality and fish habitat
  • Rely upon voluntary stewardship practices as the primary method of protecting critical areas and not require the cessation of agricultural activities.
What does it mean to Create and Meet Protection and Enhancement Benchmarks?

VSP statute requires the Work Group to:

“Create measurable benchmarks that, within ten years after the receipt of funding, are designed to result in (i) the protection of critical area functions and values and (ii) the enhancement of critical area functions and values through voluntary, incentive-based measures.”   (RCW 36.70A.720(2)(b).)

The VSP legislation further states the “Program shall be designed to protect and enhance critical areas on lands used for agricultural activities through voluntary actions by agricultural operators.”  Failure to meet a goal or benchmark set in the Work Plan will result in plan failure and will trigger a regulatory approach to critical areas protection.

Though critical area enhancement is not part of the initial VSP Work Plan Approval test, the Work Plan must also include benchmarks for promotion and implementation of voluntary actions designed to protect and enhance critical areas. The definition of “protection” is provided above. The VSP legislation’s definition of “enhancement” establishes that:

“enhance” means “to improve the processes, structure, and functions existing, as of July 22, 2011, of ecosystems and habitats associated with critical areas.” RCW 36.70A.703

What is meant by the Baseline Conditions?

The effective date of the VSP legislation is July 22, 2011. This is the statutory date for identifying the applicable baseline for county requirements related to protecting a particular critical area, and for maintaining and enhancing agricultural viability. This baseline also delineates the assessment line between critical area protection and voluntary enhancement that may be promoted where needed, through incentive-based measures, to improve critical area functions and values above the July 22, 2011 protection baseline. (RCW 36.70A.703)

This is also the date from which the County will measure progress in implementing the Work Plan measurable benchmarks. VSP programmatic assessments should occur at the watershed scale (not farm by farm or ranch by ranch), as all VSP participation by agricultural operators is voluntary.

What is the “Maintain and Enhance Agricultural Viability” Test?

The VSP Work Plan must “maintain and enhance” agricultural viability to receive approval.  (RCW 36.70A.725.)

Some VSP statutory sideboards implicitly help to maintain agricultural viability. For instance, the VSP Work Plan is to rely on voluntary stewardship “as the primary method of protecting critical areas and not require cessation of agricultural activities.” (RCW 36.70A.700.) The County, and the VSP Work Plan, may not “require an agricultural operator to discontinue agricultural activities legally existing before July 22, 2011.” RCW 36.70A.702.

Also, VSP statutes do not grant counties or state agencies any additional regulatory authority to protect critical areas on lands used for agricultural activities. (RCW 36.70A.702.) In order to promote producer participation and productive discussion among Work Group members, VSP statutes prohibit county promulgation of new critical area regulations related to agricultural activities during the VSP process (narrow exceptions apply). (RCW 36.70A.130(8)(a).) Further, nothing in the VSP statutes requires participation from agricultural operators, which is voluntary only.

What is the “Protect Critical Areas” Test?

The Work Plan must detail how Columbia County through VSP will protect critical areas while maintaining and enhancing the viability of agriculture in the watershed. The definition of protection in the legislation
for the Voluntary Stewardship Program indicates that “Protect” or “protecting” means to prevent the degradation of functions and values
existing as of July 22, 2011.

Important elements of this definition of “protection” include the
terms “degradation”, “functions and values”, and the baseline date
of July 22, 2011 and what information is available as of that date.

What is the state enabling legislation for the VSP?

The legislation is found in the revised code of Washington.

Information can be found here >

Who is Watershed Work Group?

A citizen’s group appointed by the Board of County Commissioners. They are tasked with the responsibility of developing the VSP Work Plan for Columbia County.

The Work Group consists of:

Glenn Warren
D.J. Frame
Connie Spray
Scott Magill
Roland Schirman
Bill Warren
Paul Carter
Marty Hall
Skip Mead
Justin Pearson
Valerie Turner
Rick Turner
Bryan Martin
Jim Bob Bloomfield
Gerald Magill
John Foltz
Dick Rubenser
Tom Schirm
Terry Bruegman
Eric Thorn
Don Jackson
Bill Eller
Kelly McLain
Steve Martin
Ed Teel
Don Howard
Janet Howard
Larry Fairchild
Randy Mann
Bill Turner
Lester Literal
Dave Frame
Dan Franiz
Why should I participate in the VSP?
  • It is an opportunity to work together with other farmers to promote volunteerism versus additional regulatory controls. This means more local control, more certainty and less regulations.
  • Help to create a baseline for your farm and farming in Columbia County.
  • Together, we can document advances and changes that have already occurred to improve stewardship.
  • Help to conserve, improve, and increase efficient use of natural resources to support greater yields and produce quality.
  • Promote a positive image of agriculture to the larger community.
  • Enhance marketability of agricultural products