Thursday, December 17, 2015

Farming regulation: What price the environment?

My primary farm acreage is fronted on two sides by salmon streams, and I have a variety of wildlife that I host on my acres; I regularly see coyote, bobcat, every sort of bird (eagles, hawks, owls, ducks, geese, swans, hummingbirds and thousands of smaller bird) and the usual local deer and even the occasional sign of bears.  I even suspect there's a cougar around here somewhere, but I've never been sure.  

I like and encourage wildlife as much as i can; in that I've changed my tune from a few years ago when I was shooting coyotes to choosing management that is less or non-lethal.  For coyotes, electric fences instead of bullets, for instance.    I do shoot rats, though.  They're invasive, destructive, and if I don't I'm going to be overrun with them.

I do that because I'm clear that we, as humans, are only going to have the wildlife left that we choose to let exist.  Actually, it's a little stronger than that.  If we don't make serious efforts to maintain our current wildlife I believe we humans, as a species, have the ability to eradicate them.  So I'm doing my small part by managing my land in a way that allows the native animals to do what they do, and I'm also talking to and encouraging my neighbors to do the same.

Part of the wildlife that I share my farm with isn't on the list, and that's the fish and things that live in the river and the watercourses and bodies of water around my farm.  I'm talking about things like salmon and trout and other fish, as well as salamanders and frogs and every other species that needs good quality water to survive.  those species are what the current regulations regarding water quality are all about, and honestly, I do take great care to make sure that my property and my use of my property don't impact the neighboring properties in any way.

In that I'm fairly luck - I purchased a bankrupt dairy, and the previous owners of the dairy had made vast and very expensive improvements to my farm that made manure handling simple and easy.  I'm going to estimate that to re-create the facilities that I use now would cost me about a million and half dollars.

that kind of money is far outside what a small farm (or a medium farm, or even a large farm!) can afford to spend to comply with regulations.

But what they can do is set aside buffers, areas of clean vegetation between farm operations and water, so that any water flowing into ponds, lakes, streams or rivers is filtered and cleaned before it goes on its way.

But the cost of that, particularly for small landowners, is that they lose a portion of their land, potentially forever.  

I've had my run-ins with my local regulatory agencies, and I understand what they are after, and why, but on the other side I do have quite a bit of sympathy for landowners who have their land effectively taken from them.  

For me, buffer areas and setbacks aren't that big an issue.  I have enough land that 10' here or 20' there really doesn't make much of a difference.  But I would like to see more recognition and compensation to landowners for this sort of taking.  Because that is really what it is.

And yes, I know about the CRP program, and I think that it's a very good program, and fairer.  But it's difficult for small landowners to access, there's a finite budget, so not all properties interested can enroll, and for productive farmland, the payments aren't enough to offset the loss of profit from normal farm operations.  If you've got marginal land it's actually a pretty good way to go.

The CRP program doesn't cover one of the ways that most of the land is taken from landowners around here:  "natural growth protection areas" (NGPA) -- which I call blackberry and canary grass reserves, because that's often all that ends up growing there.

For people building houses it's not unusual for you to lose 20 to 80% of  your building lot for NGPA reserves, and you are both not compensated for that loss of use, and you are required to do that as a condition of the permitting process; you are charged for the privilege of losing your land.

Lets save the environment, but lets spread the cost farther than the poor guy who wants to build a house this year.  The houses built last year, and in the last 150 years, had just as much impact to the environment in their time as this new one, and, in my opinion, should shoulder a portion of these costs as well.

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