Historic La Conner farmpProtected by County Farmland Legacy Program

(SKAGIT COUNTY)- Skagit County’s Farmland Legacy Program has finalized two farmland preservation projects this August, permanently protecting another 60 acres of farmland from development.

The La Conner farmland is managed by two families—the Rings and the Lillquists—each of whom are descendants of Isaac Dunlap who served as Skagit County’s first County Commissioner in 1889. Together, all 60 acres are leased to Thulen Farms, according to a news release from the county.

Landowner Karl Lillquist, along with his nieces, nephews, and uncle, John Ring, expressed their commitment to the viability of local agriculture. “Protecting the land as farmland into perpetuity is something that both families are committed to,” Karl says. “This is something that our parents would also have wanted. And now the land is protected,” he adds.

“The Ring and Lillquist families’ decision honors their forbearers and it protects this productive farmland for the benefit of us all,” says Commissioner Ron Wesen, who represents the northwest district of Skagit County.

“Agricultural conservation easements ensure prime farmland is not developed, help to keep it affordable for the next generation of farmers, and provide a capital boost to local farm businesses,” says Commissioner Lisa Janicki. “We are indebted to farmland owners like the Dunlap family’s descendants and what they have done here today,” says Commissioner Peter Browning.

Farmland under conservation easement protection through the Skagit County Farmland Legacy Program now totals 14,375 acres.

The 60 acres of farmland in La Conner have been in the family since the late 1800s when the Dunlap family arrived in the Skagit Valley from California as a pioneer farming family.

The land has been in a rotation of potatoes, grains, and vegetable crops over the last decade. “It’s great ground with nice light soil and high, dry ground,” says John Thulen who farms the ground. Its Skagit Silt Loam soil, designated prime farmland by the US Department of Agriculture, is now protected from non-agricultural use. There are no buildings on the protected land. At least 95 percent of the acreage estimated as farmable ground.

“Our families’ first goal is to protect the land as farmland,” says landowner John Ring and great-grandson of Isaac Dunlap, who owns the east parcel with his wife Berdean. “We want the land to stay the same for new generations who come to grow here.”

In addition to its agricultural value, the Swinomish Channel sits west of the land, the Skagit River is east, and the Skagit Bay and Sullivan Slough to its south, which provide habitat for countless wildlife.

The Ring and Lillquist Farm property sits adjacent to other small- and mid-scale farmland parcels protected by Farmland Legacy over the last 25 years, including the 154-acre Jennings Farm as well as the 173-acre Dunton farm property protected in 2021. The additional 60 acres of farmland creates a 700-acre block of prime protected farmland in La Conner.

The Farmland Legacy Program is a county-funded initiative that compensates landowners for placing a perpetual conservation easement on their land. Landowners retain ownership of their land and continue their farming operations as usual. The program’s primary goal is to protect Skagit County’s vital agricultural productivity and character.

The Skagit County Farmland Legacy Program one of the most active and successful farmland preservation programs across Washington state, due to the number of protected acres and the ongoing community and county government support. Nearly 20% of land zoned Agriculture-Natural Resource land is protected from non-agricultural use through County farmland conservation easements.

Despite strong land-use planning, Washington state continues to lose farmland to development—nearly 100,000 acres between 2001 and 2016. Over 50% of the land lost was considered the state’s best quality farmland, according to the American Farmland Trust’s recent report.

For 2023, the County has budgeted $1.8 million in conservation futures tax funds for the purchase of easements to protect agricultural land.