Skagit County marks 25 years of farmland preservation with 14,000 acres protected

(SKAGIT COUNTY)- This spring, Skagit County released the quarter-century anniversary report detailing its farmland protection work.

The Farmland Legacy Program is a county-funded initiative that compensates landowners for unused residential development rights and that places perpetual conservation easements on agricultural lands in Skagit County, according to a news release from the county. Landowners retain ownership of their land and continue to farm, while the easement restricts future uses to agriculture.

The program’s primary goals are to protect Skagit County’s agricultural character and productivity.

The report’s eight pages include a Farmland Legacy program overview, a centerfold map of protected farmland in western Skagit County, last year’s progress with Skagit farmland preservation, and a broad look at agriculture in Skagit County.

The Skagit Farmland Legacy Program

Since 1996, the Skagit County Farmland Legacy Program has sourced $23 million in compensation to farmer-landowners for the permanent protection of agricultural land in Skagit County. The breakdown of the $34 million spent over the past 25 years includes $13.5 million in Skagit County Conservation Futures Tax and $9.5 million in local and federal grants and nonprofit contributions.

Total protected acreage as of December 2021 represents 16% of the roughly 89,000 acres designated Agriculture-Natural Resource land in Skagit County.

A Look at 2021 in Skagit Farmland Preservation

Skagit County’s Farmland Legacy Program protected 772 acres of farmland in 2021. Another 173 acres of farmland were protected in 2021 under the Agricultural Land Preservation code (SCC 14.16.860), an option available to landowners looking to separate a homesite from existing farmland.

Preserved this past year through the Farmland Legacy purchase of conservation easement program:

- 210 acres of farmland on Fir Island
- 286 acres of farmland at the I-5 Cook Road interchange
- 170 acres of farmland in La Conner
- 103 acres of farmland in Conway

Total properties closed in 2021 to-date: $1,465,000 in Conservation Futures tax-funded easement acquisitions.

These 945 acres bring the total to more than 13,870 acres of Skagit County farmland – out of roughly 89,000 total acres of ag-zoned land – protected from development since 1996.

Despite strong land-use planning, the State of Washington 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 Farms Under Threat: The State of the States.

Looking Ahead

For 2022, the County has budgeted $1.8 million in conservation futures tax funds for the purchase of easements to protect additional agricultural land.

Current queued applicants encompass 575 acres and 14 development rights.

Applications are currently being considered for the second half of 2022 and early 2023. Interested landowners are encouraged to reach out to the County. The farmland preservation program works with willing landowners of Ag-NRL to achieve mutually desirable transactions.