Working Lands

Reduce pressure for land conversion by supporting the long-term viability and sustainability of agricultural lands, including large and small parcel, hobby and working farms, and working forests through resilience and integrated management planning, improved incentives, and improved land use regulations.
Agricultural lands and working forests provide habitat that supports animals like deer, elk, birds, and salmon and can support water filtration and storage. Maintaining working lands in their current state is beneficial in preventing the degradation of habitat and downstream environmental conditions as well as beneficial for the natural resource economy, jobs, and production of local foods. While forestry and agricultural activity can have their impacts on the surrounding environment, the effect is often lower than after conversion to residential or commercial land uses.

By keeping working lands working, we can maintain vibrant agricultural and forestry industries, and we can reduce the pressure to convert those lands to more developed uses that can lead to greater pollution, expansion of urban heat islands, and loss of habitat.

This strategy aims to support the long-term viability of agricultural lands and working forests. It focuses on increasing agricultural resilience along with improving local jurisdictions’ adoption and implementation of plans, regulations, and policies that support healthy working lands. There is also an opportunity to expand the use of and support for incentives and technical assistance available for owners of agricultural lands and working forests.

Implementing the Land Development and Cover, Floodplains and Estuaries, and other, Implementation Strategies supports the success of this strategy.
  • Protect ag and working lands from conversion
  • Reduce peak flows, increase low flows

Support the long-term viability and sustainability of agricultural lands and working forests to reduce pressure for conversion from the current use to a more developed use. (ID #4)

Key opportunities for 2022-2026 include:

  • Increase and improve the creation and use of agricultural resilience planning for working lands
  • Expand incentives and technical assistance for agricultural lands and owners of working forests;
  • Streamline and increase funds disbursement to support Best Management Practices (BMPs);
  • Improve regulations, policies, and plans that maintain a working lands base, particularly for those areas that are vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

Support the expansion of market mechanisms to increase long-term viability and reduce conversion pressure for working lands. (ID #194)

Key opportunities for 2022-2026 include:

  • Leverage carbon markets and carbon payment programs;
  • Expand transfer of development rights and easements;
  • Enhance tax benefits, particularly for those areas that have the potential to increase carbon sequestration.
Implementation Considerations

Key opportunities for 2022-2026 to integrate human wellbeing considerations and climate change responses into efforts include:

Human Wellbeing

  • Engage and better understand diverse community values around agricultural and working lands to develop multi-benefit programs.
  • Support value-added tourism opportunities on working lands as a way of generating revenue for agricultural, forestry, and shellfish businesses and enhancing the quality of life in the region.
  • Develop engagement strategies that educate and provide technical and financial assistance to support working lands and local food production.
  • Develop markets and incentives for safe and abundant local foods.
  • Integrate human wellbeing and health data with ecological data to inform decision-making around protecting agricultural lands and working forests.

Climate Change

  • Tailor specific climate change education for different producer audiences within agriculture, forestry, shellfish industries, and other communities of practice.
  • Incorporate climate projections and projected impacts into the planning and implementation of land use decisions and working lands protection and restoration.
  • Support accurate and effective carbon accounting for working lands and leverage carbon markets and other incentives, where appropriate.
  • Promote working lands BMPs that also sequester carbon and increase resilience.
Ongoing Programs

Ongoing programs provide regulatory oversight, technical support, implementation resources, funding, or guidance and serve as the critical foundation for Puget Sound recovery. The following is a list of example state and federal ongoing programs that help to implement this strategy. Many more local, tribal nations, and nongovernmental programs exist that support this strategy.

Program Name Owner Organization
Agricultural Conservation Easement Program USDA NRCS
Aquatic Reserves WA DNR
Community Forests Program WA RCO
Comprehensive Wildlife Conservation Strategy WA DFW
Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) WA SCC
Conservation Stewardship Program USDA NRCS
Designated Forest Land and Open Space Tax Program WA DOR
Ecosystems Support WA DFW
Environmental Quality Incentives Program USDA NRCS
Family Forest Fish Passage Program WA DNR
Farmland preservation WA SCC
Forest Legacy Program USFS
Forest Practices Program including the Habitat Conservation Plan WA DNR
Forest Resilience Planning, Science, & Monitoring WA DNR
Forest Riparian Easement Program WA DNR
Forest Silviculture WA DNR
Forest Stewardship Program USFS
Growth Management Services WA Commerce
Healthy Forest Reserve Program USDA NRCS
Land and Water Conservation Fund WA RCO
Landowner Incentive Program USFWS
Lands Conservation WA DFW
Leasing program for State Owned Aquatic Lands WA DNR
National Estuary Program: Habitat Strategic Initiative WA DFW
Northwest Forest Plan USFS
Nutrient Management Plans, technical assistance WA SCC
Puget Sound and Adjacent Waters Restoration Program USACE
Puget Sound Conservation Districts (12) WA SCC
Puget Sound Federal Task Force US EPA
Readiness and Environmental Protection Integration (REPI) Program US Navy
Regional Conservation Partnership Program USDA NRCS
Rivers and Habitat Open Space Program WA DNR
Salmon Riparian Funding Program WA SCC
Shellfish Funding WA SCC
Shorelands - Floodplains by Design WA ECY
Shorelands - Wetland Mitigation Banking Program WA ECY
Shorelands - Wetland Mitigation Compliance Program WA ECY
Shorelands - Wetland Technical Assistance WA ECY
Sustainable Farms and Fields Program WA SCC
Terrestrial land acquisitions and exchanges WA DNR
Urban and Community Forestry WA DNR
Urban Waters Partnership – Green-Duwamish Watershed Street Sounds Ecology
Voluntary Stewardship Program (VSP) WA SCC
Washington Community Forest Trust Program WA DNR
Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program WA RCO
Water Quality - National Estuary Program (NEP) Stormwater SI WA ECY
Watershed and Flood Prevention Operations Program USDA NRCS
Watershed Surveys and Planning Program USDA NRCS
What We're Measuring

We are achieving our recovery goals of increasing functioning habitat and improving water quality in the Puget Sound region by preventing conversion of working lands to residential or commercial development (for example, improving the rate of loss), increasing water infiltration and holding capacity of upland areas, and advancing innovative techniques in natural resource industries that promote a healthy environment along with industry growth. Working lands are intact and thriving, and access and enrollment to protection mechanisms are increasing. Indicators of success include:

Acres of farmland converted to other uses
Acres of farmland protected by agriculture conservation easements

This Progress Indicator tracks the total acres of farmland that fall out of active use for farming, whether they are actively developed to another use (such as residential or warehouse development) or whether acres remain undeveloped (and could potentially be farmable again in the future). Farmland that is fallow as part of regular crop rotation or for a short time is not included in total converted acres. 

The data collected for this Progress Indicator illustrate progress in preventing conversion of farmland across Puget Sound. These data can also be subset by different pressure factors (including zoning, farm size, and current use after conversion) to better track the drivers of farmland conversion and evaluate the impact of planning on farmland conversion. However, this Progress Indicator can not be used to understand impact of restoration on farmland conversion, impact of regulatory barriers and market forces on farmland conversion, nor the economic viability of agriculture enterprises. 

This Progress Indicator tracks the total acres of farmland that are protected by agriculture conservation easements held by state and local land trusts. Agriculture conservation easements permanently restrict development and subdivision of a property, thereby preventing future conversion of those acres to use other than farmland (WSCC n.d.).

Importantly, conservation easements do not increase the acres of farmland in production nor guarantee that land will stay in production in perpetuity. However, this Progress Indicator helps us understand the breadth of protected agriculture lands, which are protected from future conversion to more intense uses.