farm conservation

The Skagit Conservation District works with farms, such as Wesen Organic Dairy in Bow, pictured here in August, to help them manage manure and protect natural resources.

MOUNT VERNON — The Skagit County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved Tuesday morning a tax to help pay for the Skagit Conservation District’s services, which include forestry, education and assistance to farm owners.

Property owners in Skagit County will pay $5 a parcel a year, forest land owners $3 a parcel, and agricultural land owners $1 a parcel. The tax will begin in 2020 and end after five years, unless renewed.

Conservation District Manager Bill Blake said the tax will generate about $274,000 a year and pay for a full-time forester, cost-share projects to help farmers manage their land, volunteer training programs and more.

He said the money will allow the district to upgrade technology, replace vehicles and build up its reserves.

The district had originally discussed a larger request that included a per-acre charge and would have brought in about $310,000 a year.

Blake said the district dropped the per-acre charge because it would have been unfair to large farms. He said there was also effort to avoid duplication of services provided to farmers by drainage and irrigation districts.

About a dozen spoke in support of the proposal at a public hearing before the vote, and none spoke in opposition.

“The need for technical services to manage forest lands is critical,” said Al Craney, the district’s former forester. He noted that small forest land owners own about 135,000 acres in Skagit County.

Staff from the Washington Conservation Commission and Skagit Land Trust also spoke in support of the tax.

Tony Harrah said he took the district’s free Watershed Masters Training Program and learned about issues affecting the Samish and Skagit watersheds.

“This important work is performed with a small, dedicated staff with a budget that is not only small but inadequate,” he said.

Dean Wesen, an organic dairy farmer in Bow, said after the Clean Samish Initiative started — which aimed to reduce sources of fecal coliform pollution, such as manure — dairy farmers felt like they had targets on their backs.

“The conservation district was the only one who has come to our defense,” he said.

The district has worked with dairy farmers to help reduce their impacts through cost-share projects.

Commissioners Ken Dahlstedt and Lisa Janicki agreed that the tax request was modest for the services provided by the district.

“There is a lot of need that is there,” Janicki said.

— Reporter Jacqueline Allison: jallison@skagitpublishing.com, 360-416-2145, Twitter: @Jacqueline_SVH

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