The land trust took the top score in a statewide competition for grant funding in the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program’s Farmland Preservation category, a program designed to conserve the state’s most valuable farmland for future generations.“This farmland is in a unique, agricultural valley in the shadow of Mount Adams,” said Kaleen Cottingham, director of the Recreation and Conservation Office, which administers the grant program. The valley is known for its beauty, productive farm and forest lands and abundant wildlife and recreation. It’s also desirable for housing developments. This grant will help ensure the land remains farmland forever. Since 1950, the number of Washington farms has decreased by more than 50 percent while the acres of farmland have dropped by 17 percent. Farmers face many pressures to convert their farmland, including higher value for their land if it’s developed and more difficulty getting farm labor and water. This program provides an incentive to keep the land as farmland. The Columbia Land Trust will use a $685,857 grant from the state to buy the development rights on more than 215 acres of the Schmid dairy farm in the Trout Lake Valley. By buying those rights, the land trust ensures the farmland cannot be developed and would remain farmland forever. The valley farmland is threatened by development of vacation houses. The Schmids are fourth generation Trout Lake farmers, and one of the first organic dairy farmers in the Pacific Northwest. The Schmids voluntarily agreed to the purchase.
The competition for grant funding is intense, with projects rated by citizens and professionals on many factors, such as need, project quality and cost-effectiveness.“Only the best of the best projects get funded,” Cottingham said. “For more than a decade, the Columbia Land Trust has consistently brought forth high scoring projects to conserve some of Washington’s best habitat for salmon. This is the first grant the trust has received to conserve farmland. It’s great to see them tackle the farmland challenge too.” The Recreation and Conservation Office has awarded Columbia Land Trust 25 grants since 2000, totaling more than $8.2 million. Cottingham presented a symbolic, oversized check to the land trust’s board of directors at its meeting Thursday in Portland, Oregon. The Columbia Land Trust contributed a matching share of $685,857 in donated property interest toward the project. Since 2006, the Recreation and Conservation Funding Board, through the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program, has awarded more than $12 million to more than 30 farmland preservation projects statewide. Grant recipients have contributed more than $15 million in matching resources, bringing the total to more than $27 million invested in Washington farms. The Recreation and Conservation Funding Board was established in 1964 to finance recreation and conservation projects throughout the state. For more information on the agency or its grant programs, visit the Web site: www.rco.wa.gov.