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King County Scores Well in Farmland Protection Study

American Farmland Trust praises aspects of county’s programs, but says more can be done, and warns of farmland loss throughout the Puget Sound region.

King County gets the second-highest grade in a new study on the effectiveness of farmland protection programs in the 12-county Puget Sound region. But there is still room for improvement, according to authors of the report, and the overall news for the Puget Sound is still alarming.

More than 800,000 acres of Puget Sound farmland have disappeared to urban sprawl since 1950, according to “Losing Ground: An Evaluation of County Farmland Protection Programs in the Puget Sound Basin,” the survey conducted by American Farmland Trust. The remaining 600,000 acres remain at risk, the study concludes, mainly to development pressures, and county governments overall get a “passing” grade.

“King, Whatcom, and Skagit counties lead the region in their efforts to protect farmland and are good models for other Puget Sound communities,” Dennis Canty, Pacific Northwest director of American Farmland Trust, said in a news release. “However, even these counties are overwhelmed by their high rates of growth and continue to lose farmland at an alarming rate.”

King County scored 91 out of 130 possible points in the survey, rating highly for its Farmland Protection Program, a $50-million farmland protection initiative passed by county voters in 1979 that has protected 13,200 acres of farmland to date. The county also scored well on economic development efforts, including its Agriculture Program (including Puget Sound Fresh), while getting mixed scores on regulation and tax relief.

On the Eastside, most of the Sammamish River Valley is protected by the county’s farmland program.  and long-time agriculture advocate for protecting the valley’s farmland noted that protecting farmland is not just a local issue but of universal concern.

“People everywhere have a connection to the soils of the earth,” he wrote in an email to Patch. “Take away the soils and we lose our ability to survive. The importance of protecting farmland is not solely a King County challenge; it is a global challenge.”

Other counties surveyed include Clallam (33 points), Island (43), Jefferson (56), Kitsap (29), Mason (36), Pierce (57), San Juan (79), Skagit (102), Snohomish (76), Thurston (56) and Whatcom (84).

Despite the protections in place, the study says King County lost 2,972 acres of farmland to development from 1997 to 2007, and more than 104,000 acres since 1950. About 1,790 farms and 74,000 acres of farmland remain in King County, according to the study, which surveyed numerous governmental sources to create its scorecards.

Officials from the highest-scoring counties (Skagit, Whatcom, and King) will be presented with awards during their upcoming Board of County Commissioners meetings. 

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