Governor Gary Locke’s Remarks
Washington Association of Conservation Districts
November 26, 2001

Many thanks for that kind introduction. I appreciate it.

Today, all of us in government are asked to do more with less. How we spend every penny is scrutinized. How we apply our resources is dissected. The public expects accountability on where their money goes and wants effectiveness. They also want accountability for the success -- or failure -- of programs. All of this applies to conservation districts as well.

The nature of agricultural issues requires more of a role for your districts on issues regarding habitat restoration, water quality protection and the economic success of farms. Now more than ever government and conservation districts will need to clearly define their role and mission.

Increasing demands placed on conservation districts are forcing them to move to the next level: habitat restoration, technical assistance and education projects. Each district will have to decide how they will address their requirement to “serve the natural resource.”

Some districts are engaged in innovative programs to meet these new challenges.

  • The Spokane Conservation District is working on two new projects that tie local farm products with new economic opportunity. Their straw-bale house program explores the potential uses of waste straw for the construction of homes. The end result could be a new economic opportunity for growers utilizing a product currently considered waste. The district’s other program, the biodiesel fuel project, is developing a nontoxic, biodegradable replacement for petroleum diesel. Biodiesel is made from vegetable oil, recycled cooking oil and tallow. The district is currently investigating the economic feasibility of a biodiesel production facility in Spokane County. Cities like Seattle are moving to biodiesel-powered trucks. The biodiesel would be refined using locally grown products, creating local jobs and improved prices for farm commodities.

  • The Mason Conservation District has stepped up to these new demands by engaging in salmon recovery projects and providing technical assistance for landowners as part of its regional watershed planning activities. The district has successfully partnered with other organizations and agencies to eliminate 21 fish passage barriers. The district also provides funding for fencing, habitat restoration and endangered species preservation to small farms scattered across 170,000 acres in the local watershed.

  • Foster Creek Conservation District in Douglas County is facilitating the development of a countywide Habitat Conservation Plan that will address endangered species issues while protecting private property rights. They are also coordinating the efforts of the Douglas County watershed planning activities, as well as salmon enhancement and protection activities.

These increasing demands on conservation districts require you to be more visible in your communities and in your operations. Our growing communities change the way we look at agriculture. Farms, especially in our fast growing urban counties, are more important than ever. But they’re faced with challenges to stay competitive with increased costs. We must support and encourage the role of these farms in education programs, in protecting critical natural resources, and in providing a link to our farming heritage. And conservation districts are best suited to do just that. And many of you already are.

  • Skagit Conservation District, for example, has an education program called “Treetures,” which targets pre-school through sixth grade with year-round educational materials on the values of trees.

  • The Snohomish Conservation District also has a youth program. As part of their program, students from Monroe High School finished second in a state “Envirothon,” a program that challenges students in their knowledge of soils, wildlife, forestry, and aquatic issues.

  • The Snohomish Conservation District also works with the Stilly-Snohomish Fisheries Enhancement Task Force on riparian habitat restoration projects. And their small farms project provides cost-share dollars for water quality improvement projects.

These activities show the wide variety of district projects. But they also show how districts can be pulled in directions that could stray from the core purposes of each district. In state government, I’m addressing our budget crisis by asking our agencies to reevaluate their operations to ensure that we focus on our core functions and missions. You will be engaged in the same task. As you do, I encourage you to explore new opportunities that will help make our farmers more successful, will help educate your communities on the value of farming, and will assist landowners in the protection of our natural resources.

I'm committed to helping you in these efforts in the following ways.

  • Our state recently received $10.1 million from the federal government for specialty crops and other purposes. I have directed the Department of Agriculture to allocate $3 million for a “Buy Washington” program that will increase small farm direct marketing opportunities in our state.

  • Last summer, I signed legislation that creates a marketing assistance program to assist small farms in direct marketing efforts. This program will increases access to information for farmers wishing to sell farm products directly to consumers and identify and reduce market barriers facing small farms.

As for my water policy proposals, I believe that now is the time to update our “use it or lose it” water policies. If we are going to find innovative ways to restore salmon, we need to give our farmers the tools they need to do their part. We must change the outdated notion of “use it or lose it.” And by changing this, we will be providing a tool to achieve efficiencies and conservation of resources that will make your job easier when you work with farmers.

I also believe that the issue of water will require a financial commitment. I am working with legislators to put together a funding package for water infrastructure investments that move us forward in meeting our future water needs. There have been no major investments in water infrastructure since the 1980s. Earlier this year I approved a state budget that included $8 million for water conservation projects. This investment is the tip of the iceberg. I believe that we should invest at least $100 million for agricultural water efficiencies.

Increasing funding by the state and federal government will necessitate accountability. We must ensure that the public's trust and confidence in the operation of conservation districts remains strong. There is a downside to being successful at what you do! People want to go with a winner. You are given more tasks because you have demonstrated your ability to achieve success. But with success comes responsibility -- a responsibility to show that the trust is well placed. It is critical that conservation districts have procedures in place to provide this accountability.

Limited public dollars also means that every dollar will be watched closely for effectiveness. This means there will have to be accountability from an environmental standpoint. With millions of dollars flowing across this state for salmon recovery projects, water quality protections and technical assistance to landowners, we must show that we are achieving the goals we have set out for ourselves. You will be trying new projects and programs to meet the goals of improved habitat, increased agriculture production and marketing opportunities and improved water quality. And because you are being innovative, the projects that fail will be as important as the projects that succeed. Because you will learn from them and continue to improve how you address these issues. We will help in this effort by evaluating and streamlining the role of the state in monitoring recovery efforts and improving the way we provide technical assistance to you.

My Salmon Recovery Office is developing recommendations for a monitoring program that focuses on outcome-based performance measures. In so doing, we will improve the efficiency, effectiveness and accountability of our programs.

I understand that many districts have spent a considerable amount of staff time and energy to meet the state law regarding dairy manure management plans. Because of your hard work, it appears that we will reach our goal next year of having a management plan for virtually every dairy farm in the state! I want to thank you for your hard work. By achieving this goal you will have made significant strides in protecting our waters while helping the dairy industry succeed.

Let me end by thanking all of you -- board members, staff and volunteers -- for the great work that you're doing in the conservation districts. You do a lot with a little. You are out there everyday working to help farmers do what they do best: feeding our families while protecting the environment. And because of your work, our state is a better place.

Thank you.

And now for a surprise….
The Environmental Excellence Award.

One of my top priorities as governor has been to restore our state’s streams and fish runs, but it takes on-the-ground-commitment and action to bring about tangible improvements. The Asotin County Conservation District has made a meaningful difference and deserves special recognition for its success.

Over the decades, agricultural activities had stripped vegetation, eroded soils and sent pollution into Asotin Creek, making it unhealthy for fish. Several species are now listed as threatened.

The Asotin Conservation District worked with local landowners and secured funding from the Bonneville Power Administration to develop the first watershed plan in our state to deal with watershed protection.

This funding helped landowners to make water quality and habitat improvements on their property. As a result, we’ve seen lower pollution levels and higher returns of adult Snake River steelhead.

In 1992, scientists observed three steelhead in the main stem of the creek. In 2001, they observed 199.

The district has worked hard to develop very strong relationships with the ranchers and farmers in the county. By working together, landowners have created nearly 15 miles of buffers along the sides of creeks and rivers throughout the watershed. And four more miles of restoration work are underway.

This work includes planting more than 100,000 trees and shrubs, fencing miles of stream to reduce damage from livestock and providing off-stream water for livestock.

Congratulations! Brit Ausman, chair of the Asotin County Conservation District, Jay Holdsmiller, Don Dotson, Jerry Hendrickson and Larry Reeves.
Related Links:
- Washington Association of Conservation Districts
- Washington State Department of Ecology
- Washington State Department of Agriculture
- Salmon Recovery Office
- Stilly-Snohomish Fisheries Enhancement Task Force
- Washington State Legislature
- Water 2002
- Asotin County Conservation District honored for environmental work

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