Opinion | Rep. Dan Newhouse: Local conservation efforts having a big impact

Submitted on Fri, 05/22/2020 - 12:51

For generations, farmers and ranchers in Central Washington have understood that in order to continue their important job of feeding the world, we must work together to conserve one of our most precious assets: our land.

Much of the land is rich with fertile soil, making it one of the most diverse and productive agricultural regions in the country, but our producers also understand that it is also rich with wildlife and natural resources that are worth protecting. Our farmers understand the importance of conservation, and we have strong examples of their leadership here in Washington’s 4th Congressional District.

Just a few months ago, the Keane family ranch was granted a conservation easement on 6,700 acres of land. Working with the Chelan-Douglas Land Trust, the Keanes applied for easement funding through the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). Their property is now the largest NRCS-funded agricultural land easement in the state.

The ranch is located just outside of Rock Island with a strong sage grouse population. With this easement, it is guaranteed this agricultural land — which has been farmed by the Keane family for five generations — will not be developed and will continue to provide this important habitat.

I had the opportunity to visit the Keane family’s property, and it was breathtakingly beautiful. This is exactly the type of land we should be working to conserve.

Examples of conservation leadership extend to every corner of our district.

Michael Crowder, general manager of the Barker Ranch in West Richland, has spent his career teaching the importance of locally led conservation. He has been a strong ally of mine as I have worked to promote conservation efforts, and now he will lead farmers and ranchers across the country. He was recently named president-elect of the National Association of Conservation Districts, and I know he will be a strong representative for Central Washington’s continued efforts.

Last summer, I joined Michael at Barker Ranch for a round table with NRCS Associate Chief Kevin Norton and Washington State conservationist Roylene Comes at Night. Farmers and landowners across our region were in attendance to ask questions about available conservation programs and to give feedback about existing processes. Associate Chief Norton was very receptive to the comments offered, and he assured me he would take the information back to the USDA.


Now, we see that the NRCS is listening. They are taking steps to streamline the application process for their programs. Farmers will only be required to submit one application per conservation plan to be considered for multiple funding pools, which will result in less paperwork and better implementation.

These reforms will improve outcomes and make it easier to access these important NRCS programs, which are used across the United States to help preserve wildlife habitats, improve water quality and supply, and prevent and recover natural disaster damage.

These examples are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to ways our agriculture industry is working to ensure safe and responsible management of our lands, and I will continue to work alongside our farmers and ranchers to promote local conservation — for food and for wildlife.

published in the Empire Press 5-22-2020