Whatcom County Farm Bureau has been monitoring the Comprehensive Plan & Critical Areas Ordinance (CAO) review process for nearly two years. During that time, we have made many comments on the consequences of proposed language regarding agriculture. Most significantly:
We opposed public disclosure of which farms have farm plans and their locations.
We expressed our concern about the consequences of mandated farm plans for 4H, FFA and other youth club participants, and tried to get a simple exemption for these groups. But because the Council wanted to require an educational piece to receive an exemption, the process became too complex to be workable.
We opposed the farm plan exemption of 1 animal unit per 3 acres as too restrictive to be a viable exemption as so few would qualify. Planning would not entertain an adjustment, though we offered proposals and valid arguments for multiple options. As it ended up, no exemptions for farm plans were written into the CAO.
We brought forward a definition of ongoing agriculture that more accurately described agricultural activities, and eliminated the restriction of land lying fallow for only 5 years before it was not allowed to return to its previous ag classification. This definition was accepted by the council and passed into the CAO update in July, only to be pulled in November as it seemed, to the Planning and the Council, too great a risk for engendering a challenge and a lawsuit.
What we have learned is that though the Growth Management Act mandates equal protection for the environment and resource lands, it does not happen in our county. Despite demonstrable evidence of improving water quality, (http://www.capitalpress.com/Washington/20171121/epa-cant-link-cows-to-fouled-shellfish) and increased use of best management practices, agricultural use is viewed as degradation of land.
We have also learned the power of the lawsuit is greater than the power of reason and good arguments. We did our research and formed cogent arguments for our positions, but fear of repercussions from making any changes to the CAO and thus triggering lawsuits and challenges from the environmental community carried far more weight with the Planning Dept and the Council. They knew who would sue, and they knew it wasn’t the farmers. Decisions were not made on principle as much as they were made to appease the environmental community. It is very sad that our society has come to this; that people who threaten to inflict the most pain are the ones that are accommodated. And the irony is that, often, these are the same people who say they will not tolerate bullies.
We need truth and people courageous enough to declare it despite the consequences. We are going to have to be those people, costly though it may be. Whatcom County Farm Bureau is committed to speaking the truth about agriculture as often as we have opportunity.
We are grateful to our attorney, Dannon Traxler of Langabeer Traxler, for her accurate advocacy of our issues, and her dedicated effort. It is a pleasure working with her. As well, we have been supported financially by Whatcom County Cattlemen, Whatcom Family Farmers, Ag Water Board, Dairy Federation and Washington State Farm Bureau. They have also been great resources for advice and strategy. We look forward to working with them again.