EEC Forest Stewardship is taking a broad step in 2020, we’ve applied for our county’s Current Use Program. What is current use, you may ask? Well, it’s a process by which you give up development rights in a specific area of your privately owned land, and contractually promise to regenerate forest and/or maintain agricultural spaces for current and future food production. This fits beautifully in our mission here at EEC, and we’ve spent about five years working out our plan and trying to get other neighbors to sign on with us. We finally got our new neighbor to the east interested, and she’s agreed to co-apply together. This gave me the motivation to finish my plan, write hers, and pay the high fee to apply (almost $800 for both parcels).
It’s not cheap, but if you do get in, you’ll save more than that on land taxes each year, which will be a huge help in keeping our land affordable and accessible. Though the tax reduction is a good reason to join, we’re actually doing this more for the conservation and long term restoration plans already in place at EEC Forest Stewardship. Our Forest Stewardship plan is part of the PBRS system, so that work gets folded right into our application. The woman assessing out application has encouraged me to choose agriculture as a main focus, as food forests are not all native plantings, as cannot be labeled as forest restoration (at this time). It meant separating our plans and reworking a lot of the details, but our county support has done the grunt work (thank you Megan). Here’s the plan now-
The biggest change in the plan is separation of the two parcels, but my neighbor is still on board with the plan to enter open space, and that’s the most important designation. Her application will also be agricultural, but I won’t be libel for any missed application on her property, and she will be independently graded from mine. It does still allow us to plan together, and I hope to support a forestry stewardship plan that does include both properties in scope. My neighbor’s placement at the headwaters of Weiss Creek, our salmanoid stream, means the spring fed habitat is protected at both ends. The other end, which empties into The Snoqualmie River, is replanted in native habitat and also in open space.
Since EEC Forest Stewardship already has a forestry plan, and acts upon it, we’ll continue implementation along side the PBRS Agricultural listing- which means keeping fields open, or in our case- the production of a nut grove and orchard. It will also allow us enough grazing space for sheep and chickens. At the end of my lifetime, the whole property will go into conservation easement with a nature learning center focusing on restoration agriculture. By that time, the native forest will have overtaken the pastures, and hopefully, the agricultural plantings are established for another two or three generations. After that, the whole property will be replanted as native forest (or more likely, naturally folded back in).
It’s important, as a land steward, to think ahead several generations. When folks acquire property (acknowledgement here of First Nation stewardship and stolen land- land which was not acquired until colonial ownership imposed its self on native people), privileged land owners act on immediate wants, rather than thinking through the long term care and succession of place. Usually it’s about building a home, shelter, which we equate to security and assets. Since that’s our current system of governance, that’s the game played. Sadly, it does not guarantee good stewardship of place.
Development goes hand in hand with population- homes won’t sell if there aren’t people to fill them. Strip malls only go in where people will shop. We are all contributing to this problem as a species, and until we act as one (globalization), our consumer impact on the natural world will continue to degrade quality of life for all living things. Small steps help, and putting land you are lucky enough to steward, into long term conservation, can have a huge impact. Targeting agriculturally impacted land allows for restorative practice, hand in hand with economic production, through agricultural sales to fund restoration.
Again, small steps- and at EEC Forest Stewardship, we not only produce agricultural commodities, but also embrace Washington State’s ecological improvement vision. Our county offers many incentives to improve habitat. From salmon stream to landslide prone slopes, EEC is replanting native forest for long term stability in the environment. PBRS, CREP, Forest Stewardship, and federal agencies like USDA work closely with land owners to meet professional goals with ecological recovery. It does mean signing contracts, and agreeing to “devalue” your property by giving up development rights. Without being able to look beyond our own lifetimes, it becomes clear that working towards restoring land is ultimately the greatest legacy to leave for future generations.