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Voluntary Stewardship Program

Community-Driven Solutions for Healthy Resources & Agriculture

The Voluntary Stewardship Program (VSP) is a collaborative process that helps our community ensure healthy landscapes and strong farms today and for the future. Through VSP, Benton County and our agricultural landowners are offered farm-friendly options for complying with state requirements to protect fragile and/or hazardous natural resources — referred to as “critical areas” — in places where agricultural activity is conducted.


Non-Regulatory Approach

Rather than leading with regulations and enforcement, counties enrolled in VSP use financial incentives to voluntarily engage agricultural landowners with actions that protect critical areas. Benton County is one of 28 counties in the state that enrolled in the VSP process. 

What Are Critical Areas?

The Growth Management Act (GMA) requires all cities and counties in Washington to adopt regulations protecting “critical areas” in order to preserve the natural environment, wildlife habitats, and sources of fresh drinking water. 


The statute defines five types of critical areas — click on each one to learn more:


Critical Aquifer Recharge Areas


Frequently Flooded Areas

Geo hazard

Geologically Hazardous Areas



Salmon and priority habitat

Priority Habitat & Species

Rattlesnake Mountain

Planning & Implementing VSP in Benton County

The Voluntary Stewardship Program (VSP) is a collaborative process that helps Washington communities ensure healthy landscapes and strong farms for the future.

How It Works:


Counties work with stakeholders and local residents to develop a VSP work plan to manage growth., protect critical areas, and maintain viable agriculture.


Benton County’s VSP Work Plan was approved by the state in 2018.


Once a county’s VSP work plan is approved, the plan moves into implementation. Benton Conservation District leads the effort to implement our county’s VSP Work Plan.

Monitor & Measure Success

One way we can measure the success of the VSP Work Plan and show proof of performance is through the documentation of conservation practices on agricultural lands with critical areas since 2001 (the year VSP was enacted). Benton County has submitted Two-Year and Five-Year VSP progress reports.

Do you have a project that may protect or enhance critical areas on your agricultural land?

Benton Conservation District is here to help you learn more about the Voluntary Stewardship Program (VSP) and take advantage of financial incentives for eligible VSP projects. 


As it says in the name, VSP is completely voluntary. With your help, Benton County has the opportunity to demonstrate that we can protect critical areas using a non-regulatory and incentive-based approach. The success of the program — which is our only option to avoid the traditional regulatory approach to critical area protection under the County’s Critical Areas Ordinance — depends on willing landowner participation.

Flexible & Farm Friendly

VSP offers a flexible conservation program for landowners. Not only does it protect critical areas, but it also protects agricultural viability. This means that plans are catered to the landowner and their operation. Additionally, the program can foster a partnership between Benton CD and landowners for continued success in the future.

VSP Participant Sign

VSP Services

As the lead technical entity we can provide the following services to you:

  • A site map of your property showing any critical areas that are present.

  • A checklist where landowners can indicate desired practices and practices that are currently being implemented.

  • An Individual Stewardship Plan (ISP) that summarizes your current conservation practices and a plan for implementing additional practices of your choice.

  • Technical assistance and potential cost-share funding for practice implementation.

Get in Touch!

Contact Tom Sexton


at Benton CD to learn more about VSP.

Complete the VSP Checklist

Please view and fill out the Benton VSP Checklist.


Even if you don't have critical areas, Benton CD is still interested in conservation practices you may be 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.

  • What is the Voluntary Stewardship Program?
    The Voluntary Stewardship Program (VSP) is an optional, incentive-based approach to protecting critical areas while promoting agriculture. The VSP is allowed under the Growth Management Act (GMA) as an alternative to traditional approaches to critical areas protection, such as “no touch” buffers. Twenty-seven counties have “opted in” to the VSP by nominating one or more watersheds in their county where the program would apply.
  • Are landowner checklists and Individual Stewardship Plans (ISPs) confidential, just like farm plans?
    Federal regulation Section 1619 prohibits farm plans from disclosure if they are used as part of a federal cost-share program. VSP ISP’s are not like farm plans. ISP’s only address those areas that address critical areas. ISP’s are not necessarily a full-blown NRCS farm plan. Farm plans are not disclosable, but are confidential – meaning they can be shared among governments (for example, a county to the SCC). ISP’s can be discussed in the VSP Work Group but are not disclosable.
  • Can a landowner choose not to participate in the local VSP program?
    Yes. Landowners are not required to participate, and if they choose to participate they are free to withdraw at any time without penalty. But, landowners must still comply with any new or existing contractual agreements for which they have obligated themselves for the installation of a practice.
  • What about situations where there is a lessee of the land? Is it with the operator or with the landowner?
    The WG is tasked with developing goals for participation by “agricultural operators” to meet the benchmarks of the WP. Agricultural operators is not defined by the statute, other than “commercial and noncommercial agricultural operators participating in the program are eligible to receive funding and assistance under watershed programs.”
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