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Agricultural Pilots Project Seeks to Benefit Agriculture and the Environment

PULLMAN, Wash. — The WSU-UW Policy Consensus Center announced today a project designed to benefit agriculture and the environment in Washington State. Although economic activities and preservation of natural resources have often been perceived as competing aims, many are beginning to recognize common threads of interest. The project encourages agriculturalists, environmentalists, tribes and government agencies to work collaboratively to address these issues.

The effort is centered on dual goals to promote the profitability of agricultural producers throughout the state while restoring or enhancing natural resources and rural landscapes. To achieve these goals, the Agricultural Pilots Project is seeking funding proposals for individual activities which will test innovative ideas on a small scale, but show promise for benefits on a broader scale.

If a sufficient number of promising projects come forward, funding for the Agricultural Pilots Project may be sought by Governor Chris Gregoire. “We’ve been focusing on the differences for far too long,” Gregoire said in support of the project. “This is about finding solutions that strengthen our state’s agricultural economy and stewardship of natural resources.”

A newly established independent committee that includes agricultural, environmental, tribal and local government leaders, and scientists will oversee the effort. This Oversight Committee will solicit, select and evaluate the pilot projects. William D. Ruckelshaus, the chair of the WSU-UW Policy Consensus Center Advisory Board, appointed committee members following a nomination process and endorsement by the Governor’s office.

“Maintaining a vital agricultural economy while preserving the environment for future generations often presents complex challenges which are best solved by those with on-the-ground knowledge working together to find solutions.” Ruckelshaus said. “In Washington, we can meet that challenge.”

This project relies upon local knowledge, creativity and partnerships to develop ways of working together to meet the challenges facing agriculture and the environment. Unlike many past efforts, this voluntary project has been developed through consultation with over 200 people involved in agriculture, environmental protection and local government.

Billy Frank Jr. of the Nisqually Tribe and Chairman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission stated, “The people who have a history of relying on the land for their livelihood and way of life are in the best position to preserve it. This project is a welcome opportunity for people to come together around a common interest in keeping farmers on the land.”

Joe Ryan, President of the Washington Environmental Council commented, “The project is supported by a growing recognition that a vital agricultural economy and preservation of rural land and resources go hand in hand. The health of our ecosystems depends upon the continued viability and sustainable use of our working lands. This effort embodies that recognition and helps to prompt cooperative action.”

Fred Colvin, President of the Washington Association of Conservation Districts, agreed stating, “This project recognizes that farmers have been stewards of the land for many generations, and a growing recognition that working lands are a preferred use of our resources. When farmers are economically viable, they are better able to enhance those resources for the benefit of the entire state.”

The Oversight Committee will evaluate the results of individual pilots and compile lessons learned. Through a public report, the committee will make the results of projects widely known, to encourage voluntary adoption of promising approaches.

An initial round of pre-proposal applications will be accepted until October 15, 2006. If funding is granted in the 2007 Legislature, there will be additional funding rounds. Any individual or group that can meet the established goals and selection criteria is invited to apply. However, the Oversight Committee expects to see collaborative applications that include agricultural producers as central partners in most projects.

The WSU-UW Policy Consensus Center represents a joint effort by the two universities to act as a neutral resource for collaborative problem solving in the region. The Center has offices at Washington State University Extension, and the Daniel J. Evans School of Public Affairs at the University of Washington. PCC staff will provide support for the Oversight Committee.