VOLUNTARY STEWARDSHIP PROGRAM
The Voluntary Stewardship Program (VSP) is a non-regulatory approach to meeting the goals of the state of Washington's Growth Management Act by protecting critical areas on agricultural lands (Revised Code of Washington [RCW] 36.70A.030).
The VSP provides opportunities for landowners to avoid future regulation by implementing voluntary, site-specific practices that help to protect critical areas while also promoting agricultural viability.
5 Year Report Submittal
Benton County's five year report was submitted to the Washington State Conservation Commission (WSCC) on January 11th, 2021. The report and associated documents can be viewed here. The VSP 5-Year Report is a tool used to meet the requirements of each county watershed work group to report to the Executive Director of the Conservation Commission (WSCC) and the county on whether it has met the work plan's protection and enhancement goals and benchmarks.
Financial Assistance Opportunities
BCD is seeking producers who are interested in enhancing shrub-steppe habitat on or near their agricultural land. Up to 100% cost-share funding is available for projects, and projects must be completed by June 1st, 2021. Check out our NEW Wildlife web page or contact Melissa at 509-736-6000 to learn more about financial and technical assistance opportunities for these projects.
Who is affected?
Benton County landowners utilizing their property for agricultural purposes may be affected if any of the five designated critical areas are located on the property. Benton Conservation District will assist landowners with determining if critical areas are present. An interactive web map showing critical areas is also available by clicking here.
Benton 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 on the three main watersheds in the county: Alkali-Squilchuck, Lower Yakima, and Rock-Glade.
Failure to meet the goals and objectives of the VSP may result in mandatory critical area protection measures.
How we can help?
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
VSP Critical Areas
These are areas in our county that are saturated with water either year-round or seasonally.
Critical Aquifer Recharge Areas
Parts of our land that have been identified as having a critical effect on the aquifers used for potable water.
Fish and Wildlife Habitat
Areas where fish and wildlife populations are managed and maintained. Learn more about Benton County species here.
Frequently Flooded Areas
These are areas that have a greater than 1% chance to flood during the year.
Geologically Hazardous Areas
Areas that are susceptible to erosion, sliding, earthquakes, and other geological events.
Frequently Asked Questions
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.”
Benton County's VSP goals and benchmarks were determined for each of the three main watersheds in the county: Alkali-Squilchuck, Lower Yakima, and Rock-Glade.
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