Voluntary Stewardship Program
What is the Voluntary Stewardship Program?
The Voluntary Stewardship Program (VSP) is a non-regulatory approach for complying with state requirements to protect critical areas (Revised Code of Washington [RCW] 36.70A.030) on agricultural lands. Yakima County is one of the 29 counties across the state that opted in to participate in the VSP process. The Voluntary Stewardship Program (VSP) is a new approach for counties to participate in a watershed-based, collaborative stewardship planning process. VSP uses incentives to promote agricultural and environmental stewardship. The program passed into Washington law in 2011 (ESHB 1886) as the result of an ongoing effort to advance common goals for environmental protection and agricultural viability using regulation as a last resort.
South Yakima and VSP
The South Yakima Conservation District has been designated as the lead entity to manage The Lower Yakima County’s Voluntary Stewardship Program (VSP). As the lead entity, SYCD is responsible for education and outreach, conservation practice documentation, and landowner assistance.
Instead of enacting further critical areas regulations on agricultural lands, the VSP provides an alternative approach to protecting critical areas by enacting voluntary measures while promoting agriculture in the Lower Yakima County. The VSP allows landowners to develop voluntary, site-specific stewardship plans to protect critical areas on agricultural lands while maintaining and enhancing the viability of agriculture.
Who is Affected?
Yakima County landowners utilizing their property for agricultural purposes may be affected if any of the five designated critical areas are located on their property.
Five Types of Critical Areas:
- Critical aquifer recharge areas
- Fish and wildlife habitat
- Frequently flooded areas
- Geologically hazardous areas
South Yakima Conservation District will assist landowners with determining if critical areas are present on their property.
Learn More and Participate
South Yakima Conservation District (SYCD) will provide the following services to interested landowners:
- A site map of your property showing any critical areas that are present
- A checklist where landowners can indicate desired practices they would like to implement,practices currently being implemented or have been completed after July 2011. SYCD can discuss availability of technical assistance and potential cost-share funding for future practice implementation.
Success of VSP
Measurable benchmarks must be met to prevent failure of the work plan. Failure of the plan will trigger the traditional regulatory approach to critical area protection under the County’s Critical Areas Ordinance process. The VSP was enacted on July 22, 2011, and this is the date for “baseline conditions”. This means all benchmarks and goals are based on changes since that date.
One way the district can measure the success of the plan and show proof of performance is through the documentation of conservation practices on agricultural lands with critical areas since the July 22, 2011. Yakima County’s VSP Work Group was tasked with determining measurable benchmarks to gauge success of the program. The benchmarks are based on critical area conditions on the effective date of legislation, July 22, 2011 and are divided based upon the three main watersheds in the county: Upper Yakima, Lower Yakima, and Rock-Glade.
Next Steps for Landowners
- Find out if you have any critical areas located on your land. South Yakima Conservation District can provide landowners with a map and additional information about the critical areas on their property. Yakima County has additional information on their website at: https://www.yakimacounty.us/1657/Voluntary-Stewardship-Program-VSP
- Even if you don’t have critical areas, SYCD is still interested in conservation practices you may be all ready or plan on implementing. In addition to the practices listed, other practices that protect critical areas directly or indirectly and maintain or improve agricultural viability will be considered for credit.
- Landowners interested in participating are encouraged to contact South Yakima Conservation District. There may be cost-share available to help implement new practices to protect and enhance critical areas.
If you would like assistance completing the VSP checklist please contact us directly to make arrangements. SYCD would be glad to help you with your property and resource concerns and to make the Voluntary Stewardship Program a success.