Eastern Klickitat Conservation District showcases farmland preservation efforts to state leaders

GOLDENDALE, WA – On May 17, Eastern Klickitat Conservation District (EKCD) hosted members of the Washington State Conservation Commission (SCC) and partners on a tour featuring the district’s ground-breaking work to preserve local farmland.

The tour visited sites within the Rock Creek watershed where the district has started helping interested landowners explore how to preserve the farming industry and landscape for future generations.

scc and conservation district logos

One new tool in the district’s “farmland preservation toolbox” is agricultural conservation easements. Agricultural conservation easements are voluntary agreements that give landowners the option to sell their right to develop their property to an entity, which in this case is the conservation district. The agreement adds a permanent restriction on development and subdivision to the property title. Landowners are paid the portion of the property value that the development right represents and retain all other rights.

In 2015, the State Legislature provided funding for the district and their partner, the SCC Office of Farmland Preservation, to purchase two easements. This year, the partners are applying to the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program to fund three more easements. If funding requests are successful and the landowners decide to proceed, over 26,000 acres of farmland in the Rock Creek watershed will be preserved.

Eastern Klickitat Conservation District is the first conservation district in the state to pursue the purchase of agricultural conservation easements at this scale.

“Our success so far is a credit to what the conservation district does and the relationships they’ve developed with landowners,” said Josh Giuntoli, coordinator of the SCC Office of Farmland Preservation.

Retired EKCD director, Jim Hill, told tour participants that the district’s work to preserve farmland also may benefit recovery efforts for salmonids listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), including summer Chinook.

“That’s another reason we pursued these easements,” said Hill. “In the long-run, it will help with habitat and water quality in Rock Creek.”

As land parcels are subdivided and developed, there can be a proliferation of new exempt wells. Depending on the number, this can lower stream flow and, in turn, increase water temperatures, which can be dangerous for salmon.

“One projected threat to long-term fisheries recovery is the selling of parcels for development. So, one of the goals is to maintain large blocks of land,” said Giuntoli. “That makes these projects a great fit.”

State Conservation Commission member Lynn Bahrych joined fellow tour participants in commending the conservation district and landowners for their work to preserve the agricultural landscape and natural resources during a time when many farm regions across the state are being lost or altered by development.

“The highlight of the Eastern Klickitat Conservation District tour was the stunning landscape of the Rock Creek watershed, over 26,000 acres of beautiful creeks and canyons, now with the potential of being protected for future generations by a group of visionary landowners working with the conservation district and other partners,” said Commissioner Bahrych.

About Eastern Klickitat Conservation District

Established in 1940, Eastern Klickitat Conservation District is one of 45 conservation districts in the state working side-by-side with landowners to care for and manage natural resources. Conservation districts are locally led and voluntary, providing services at the request of and in collaboration with those that receive the benefits: Washington landowners. To learn more, visit http://ekcd.org/ or call the district office: 509-773-5823 x5.