What is the VSP?
The Voluntary Stewardship Program (VSP) is an alternative approach for counties to protect critical areas on agricultural lands. Instead of enacting further critical areas regulation on agricultural lands, the VSP allows the county to work closely with stakeholders to develop voluntary, site-specific stewardship plans.
The county has been working with tribes and stakeholders to establish a watershed-based planning group. This group includes a broad representation of key stakeholders and representatives of agricultural and environmental groups, as well as tribes that have agreed to participate.
One of the benefits of the VSP planning process is that it’s a local, grassroots planning effort. It also integrates programs that may already exist in the county, such as the Open Space Tax Program, Transfer and Purchase of Development Rights, and Agritourism.
The mission of the VSP is to create a voluntary stewardship plan which protects critical areas while maintaining and enhancing the viability of agriculture.
History of the VSP
In 2006, Initiative 933 addressed regulatory taking of agricultural lands due to development regulations. It failed by 60 percent. The following year, the state Legislature commissioned the Ruckelshaus Center, a non-profit think tank based in Seattle, to examine the conflict between preserving agricultural lands and protecting critical areas in local ordinances adopted under the GMA. The process brought together stakeholders on this issue for discussion and development of a recommendation to the Legislature. A moratorium was placed on the requirement for local governments to update their critical area ordinances as they specifically applied to agricultural activities. The Voluntary Stewardship Program is the result of the hard work undertaken by the Ruckelshaus Center. In the spring of 2007, the state legislature adopted Substitute Senate Bill 5248 which included the following provisions:
In the spring of 2011, the state legislature enacted Engrossed Substitute House Bill (ESHB) 1886 which enacted the recommendations of the Ruckelshaus process. This bill amended the Growth Management Act (RCW 36.70A) to allow options for protecting critical areas:
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