Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Three goverment agencies inspecting my farm today

I took pictures of all of the people who came today, but three of them were squeamish about their pictures being taken, so I edited the picture prior to posting to obscure them.
The army corps of engineers, Snohomish county Planning and Development services and the Washington state department of ecology were all inspecting my greenhouse today. In these days of budget cutbacks and funding cuts, I'm glad to see that no less than three agencies can spend the time and effort to come out and visit.

Present at this meeting were Paul Anderson, a biologist from the department of ecology, Krista Rave-Perkins from the department of ecology, Jonathan Smith from the Corps of Engineers and Roxanne Pilkington from Snohomish County PDS. The corps apparently received a complaint about my greenhouse and asked to inspect my property.

I declined to let them on my property, but met them at the property line and walked with them a bit and talked with them about the whole situation. The army corps and the other agencies are tasked with responding to complaints. I have no idea who complained, but the last time I went through this it was an agency employee who complained -- which makes it a little difficult to believe the line they feed me "we only respond to complaints and that's why why focus on you". If agency employees initiate complaints I believe that it's unequal enforcement.

I don't know what the regulatory burden is like in other areas, but I typically spend 1 day a week on some zoning/planning/permit/land use issue at this point. It seems kinda silly to spend 15% of my time doing stuff like this, but the truth is that these guys will not be ignored, and they have the ability to impose gargantuan fines.

"We don't appreciate threats like that" but we can threaten you
During the discussion at the property line, I mentioned that If I were required to move my greenhouse onto the pasture, that the loss of pasture would probably force me to graze my pigs in a forested area on my property. As I've mentioned in previous posts, I'm pretty much at the stocking limit of my land, and I need every square foot. I was surprised by the vehemence of the response. "We don't appreciate threats like that!" . The person who said that is from the same agency that threatened to fine me $10,000 a day for spreading wood chips. It's odd that they feel that threatening me with that huge fine is OK, but my saying that I'd graze my animals here, or there, is not to be tolerated.

"Cooperative agreements are much better - but we don't cooperate"
Overall I'm happy to talk to any government agency about any particular issue they have. I'm resigned to the fact that my farm gets a huge amount of scrutiny that other farms do not. I have to confess that I don't understand why they're so interested in me but at this point it's a little like the weather. "multi agency government agency visit today" is about the same as "it's going to rain". I just do what I do and hope that they're acting in good faith. I mentioned to them that they don't get paid much, and I believe that. But standing at the side of the road, everyone else there was on the government payroll, and I wasn't. So in terms of being paid for the time, I was clearly the low man on the totem pole.

I do appreciate Jonathan Smiths' bringing all of the agencies together today so that we could all talk. I've been dealing with each agency separately, and the bottom line is that every one of them would be happy taking a chunk of my land. They can call it "remediation" or "habitat management" or "restoration", but the net effect is that their goal is to shave slices off my property and prevent me from using the land in any way. Each agency wants their own pound of flesh.

The negotiation technique that seems to be popular is to threaten me with fines or sanctions or whatever. they talk about cooperative agreements, but in my dealings with these guys they'd much prefer that I just write them a check. Unfortunate that I don't have the same power. There's no end of agencies that want some money, apparently.

Farming requires room
The reason that I resist any effort by any agency to take any portion of my land is that the taking is permanent, and at some point, there's no farming I can do if they take enough of it. Every agency that showed up today believes that they're doing the right thing, and thinks that the loss of 10% or 5% or 3% of my land forever is a perfectly fine solution for whatever sin they've decided that I've committed. They view the signing of further restrictions as not too bad "prohibition of human habitation" "natural growth protection area" "set aside for salmonid species" "restoration for clearing" - whatever it is, they view it as reasonable. But the total effect is to make the property less and less usable for any purpose, farming included.

If they want my land they should just buy it. But while I own it, and while it's zoned farmland I'm going to farm it, and I will fight every attempt they make to encumber it.


Anonymous said...

Man, good luck with the leeches.
It is farm land, and they are suppose to work for us, the citizen. We're not subjects yet. They should just let you farm.
Meanwhile, in town, all manor of crime goes unprosecuted.

Nels said...

Good luck Bruce! It really sucks how powerless we truly are.

StefRobrts said...

In this economy they should be encouraging anyone who can make a living, and especially farming since we don't produce nearly enough of our own food in this country anymore. But instead of helping they are harassing. That's why in our area all the dairys have closed up and moved to Oregon, and the once useful fields are being turned into yards for mansions with CC&Rs to prevent livestock from ever grazing there again. Someday when people are going hungry they'll be wishing we had made growing our own food a priority.

Sounds to me like you need to contact your representative and find out why your tax dollars are being used against you. Or get a lawyer.

Dean Smith said...

As a resident of Snohomish County, I'd be happy to write letters, send eMails or go talk to anyone if that would be helpful. I think the local government really has their values backwards here. We need to help them out.
Dean Smith (

damae said...

I agree with Dean Smith, we all need to be writing letters, sending emails and making phone calls. They need to stop the harassment. We need our farmers. Too many city folks have no idea where their food comes from and cannot imagine that there might not be any available in the future. Just this week I was talking to a very nice young man from Ukraine. He said they had done this very same thing over there back in the '30's and millions of people ended up starving to death.

damae said...

Just what is their justification for $10,000 a day for wood chips? How much more green can you get than wood chips?
I came across this blog, this guy has figured out a few things. . . :

Bruce King said...

Thank you all for the kind words. I'm going to wait to see what they do. It usually takes an agency a couple of weeks to figure out what they think i've done. I've noticed several of them reading the blog and the comments, so they're aware of the general sentiment.

Regarding wood chips: Every time there's one of those fake wetlands around a freeway interchange or alongside a road they carpet the whole thing in wood chips and stumps. I'm not sure how my wood chips are different than theres, but big expanses of dirt are covered when they do that, and it appears to be acceptable then. I asked Paul Anderson about that -- his reply was that they had a permit to spread wood chips, and that was the difference. I'm going to hold that composting wood chips isn't an activity that requires a permit. Time will tell if they agree with me.

damae said...

OH . MY . GOD , we're gonna need a permit to use the bathroom next. and they're gonna wanna know how much and what color. Dan Dagget says, "Liberal Environmentalism’s deepest, darkest, secret is that it doesn’t work. It doesn’t work to do the one job it claims that only it can do—restore nature, heal the planet, bring back native plants and animals, save endangered species, and so forth. In fact, in many of those cases and more, Liberal Environmentalism doesn’t even make things better, it makes things worse.

That requires an example. A good one involves the Verde River in Central Arizona." Read about the Verde River and the Spikedace at:

What Stef said about the dairy's leaving bothers me. The problem is they all silently packed up and left. The public hasn't a clue as to why. With the current price of milk, more dairy's will be going out of business. Farmers are being regulated and permitted off the land. Have you heard of the effect Monsanto and Cargill are having on farmers in India? Heartbreaking.

damae said...

I would ask those government agency people who are reading this blog to go to this page and read about the actual effects of reducing human impact:

Anonymous said...

I don't get it, what was the complaint? Are they saying you should not have your greenhouse where it is? Why? Are you not on your own land?

Bruce King said...

It's not clear what the complaint was, or who made it. I can speculate, but I think I'll make a public document request and get the complaint and read it.

Each of these agencies are charged with investigating complaints, regardless of the merit of the complaint, at least enough to dismiss it. Sometimes they come, look and then decide that the complaint is baseless. Other times they'll decide that I've done something wrong, and we then go through the process of resolving the complaint.

As an example, Snohomish county recieved a complaint that I was building with a permit, building in a protected wetland, grading without a permit and clearing without a permit. All of those we've resolved -- I'm not doing any of that. But after they looked at it for 6 months they decided that I needed a flood hazard permit, which I duly applied for. Then they decided, after the flood hazard permit had been started, that part of that is the resident salmonid species and killer whale habitat management plan. So we're arguing about that right now.

damae said...

Huh!! I was just talking to a farmer in Yakima today. The farmers there had to get a lawyer from the coast cuz the environmentalists wanted them to back off the crick by 1000 feet. The Lawyer said it didn't work on the coast, and it won't work in Y. Plus who will take care of it? The farmers are already taking care of it. And if the farmers get lawyers and start suing it'll just cost the govt lots more money. The Env.ists faded out of the picture. But I will be happy to give you his name so you can get that lawyers name from him.

Anonymous said...

Hey Bruce, have you worked with the snohomish conservation district (NRCS) at all? I got a tip from an insider a few years back, that said once you have a farm plan with NRCS, all the other agencies back off, because NRCS trumps them. As far as I've learned from my farming-for-a-living neighbors, NRCS is "safe" to work with, they are on the farmers' side.

It worked for me! County biologists and PDS employees stepped aside immediately. And I got a lot of cool advice and literature for free from it as well. My farm planner is a cattle rancher herself, so she's a great resource. Just an idea, maybe you've already pursued, but just in case! Good luck to ya!