Survey suggests missed opportunity to engage Washington landowners as partners in conservation

December 12, 2018

A recent survey of all 45 conservation districts in Washington indicates that limited financial and operational capacity is crippling their ability to make progress toward state natural resource priorities. According to survey data, there are more landowners who want help with practicing conservation on their properties than conservation districts currently are able to serve.

View a full summary of survey findings.

With around 50 percent of land in Washington under private ownership, landowners are a necessary partner in conservation efforts. For over 75 years conservation districts have served as the trusted, non-regulatory partners that landowners rely on for the technical expertise and financial incentives they need to conserve natural resources on their property.

Survey findings indicate that:

  • At their current level of funding, conservation districts are unable to meet the demand from landowners and partners for their services.
  • Some districts are struggling to even maintain basic services or keep their doors open for their community.
  • Capacity issues slow progress toward achieving natural resource objectives and prevent districts from achieving results at a watershed-scale.
  • Capacity issues prevent conservation districts from providing the services that other local, state, and federal partners rely on them to provide.

The Washington State Conservation Commission (SCC) — the state agency that coordinates and provides financial and operational support to conservation districts — administered the survey. It was conducted as part of the SCC’s statutory duties to 1) assess and report the needs and work of conservation districts to the Governor, the Legislature, and other stakeholders, and 2) to recommend appropriation of state funds by the legislature to finance the activities of conservation districts (RCW 89.08.080).

SCC proposes funding package that builds capacity to conserve

The SCC submitted a $17 million “Conservation Technical Assistance” state funding package that would address many of issues identified in the survey. The package would allow each conservation district to work with landowners and other partners to complete at least 30 percent more projects per year that address critical resource issues, such as orca recovery, salmon recovery, forest health, wildfire preparedness and resilience, clean energy, and farmland preservation.

Conservation districts also would be able to respond to a growing wait list of landowners who have requested assistance with practicing conservation on their properties.

Learn more about SCC funding packages that build capacity for conservation districts to engage the levels of landowner participation needed to speed up progress toward state natural resource goals.

Key survey findings:

In the last 10 years, 24 percent of conservation districts have considered closing their doors due
to capacity issues. (One did close temporarily.)

84 percent are either “confident” or “somewhat confident” that there are more landowners willing to work on conservation projects than they’re able to reach.

65 percent of conservation districts are either “not confident” or “somewhat not confident” that they’ll be able to make improvements to natural resource conditions in a timely manner at their current funding level.