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Local Farmer is a Voluntary Steward of the Land

ELMA – José Torres, a local dairy farmer, has recently implemented a project that epitomizes the Grays Harbor County Voluntary Stewardship Program. In February of 2020, Torres planted native trees and shrubs in his hay field along the Chehalis River to help reduce bank erosion and improve habitat. Giving up a portion of one of his most productive hay fields to plant didn’t faze Torres. According to him, “We’re trying to do the best we can to keep everything together. Without these programs we would be struggling more than we are right now. Trying to give up a little bit of land to protect the erosion, or sit back and do nothing, at least we’re trying to do better. We have to understand that sometimes giving up a little bit of land is not a problem. We’re not only trying to protect our cropland, but access to the fields like the roads and the surrounding community. It’s a benefit for everybody.”

Torres has worked with the Grays Harbor Conservation District in the past, and after receiving a Voluntary Stewardship Program (VSP) informational postcard in the mail, he decided to reach out with his natural resource concern of an eroding bank along the river. Grays Harbor Conservation District staff responded with a solution to Torres’ concern, the Voluntary Stewardship Program.

VSP is an innovative approach for the protection and enhancement of critical areas (i.e. – wetlands, frequently flooded areas, and fish and wildlife habitat) that intersect with agricultural lands. VSP, which is directed by a local board of Grays Harbor County agricultural producers, works under the assumption that complex environmental problems can be solved through voluntary cooperation. The program demonstrates that voluntary stewardship of critical areas can be successful in Grays Harbor County, at the same time as promoting the viability of agriculture.

VSP provided a “win win” solution for Torres. As an agricultural landowner with critical areas on his property, Torres was able to keep his farming operation viable through erosion reduction, while also enhancing the quality of the riparian area along the Chehalis River.

VSP applies to land where agriculture practices and critical areas overlap. If you would like more information and/or would like to participate in the program through the implementation of voluntary stewardship practices, please contact Natalie Osowski, VSP Specialist at the Grays Harbor Conservation District (GHCD) at 360.590.4193.