Voluntary Stewardship Program

Cropped Lewis River Riparian in Spring 2021


As of May 2023, The Voluntary Stewardship Program (VSP)  is managed by the Cowlitz Conservation District

Please Contact: Darin Houpt  at:   360 425-4880    ccdmgr@ccdandwcd.com

2125 8th Ave.  Longview, WA 98632

VSP Background


On January 17, 2012, the Board of County Commissioners elected to participate in the Voluntary Stewardship Program established by the Washington State Legislature through ESHB 1886. This program creates an alternative to protecting critical areas in areas used for agricultural activities through development regulations adopted under RCW 36.70A.070. Washington Agricultural Organizations Supporting VSP

Fact Sheet from State Cowlitz County VSP Frequently Asked Questions Flyer

Farm Bureau Paper Washington State University Extension Impact Report

In 2015, the State Legislature provided funding for implementation of the Voluntary Stewardship Program. On December 22, 2015, the Cowlitz County Board of Commissioners adopted Resolution 15-121 initiating county participation in the Program.

Program Goals 

  • Promote plans to protect and enhance critical areas where agricultural activities are conducted, while maintaining and improving long-term viability of agriculture in the state of Washington and reducing the conversion of farmland to other uses.
  • Focus and maximize voluntary incentive programs to encourage good riparian and ecosystem stewardship as an alternative to historic approaches used to protect critical areas.
  • Leverage existing resources by relying upon existing work and plans in counties and local watersheds, as well as existing state and federal programs to the maximum extent practicable to achieve program goals.
  • Encourage and foster a spirit of cooperation and partnership among county, tribal, environmental, and agricultural interests to better assure program success.
  • Improve compliance with other laws designed to protect water quality and fish habitat.
  • Rely on voluntary stewardship practices as the primary method of protecting critical areas and not require the cessation of agricultural activities.

What are Critical Areas?

Critical areas include wetlands, fish and wildlife habitat conservation areas, frequently flooded areas, geologically hazardous areas, and critical aquifer recharge areas. Cowlitz County is mandated by the State to protect critical areas.

Wetlands - Areas inundated or saturated by surface water or groundwater supporting a prevalence of vegetation adapted for life in saturated soil conditions. Includes swamps, marshes, bogs, and similar areas. Does not include irrigation ditches, farm ponds, wastewater treatment facilities, canals.

Fish and Wildlife Habitat Conservation Areas - Serve a critical role in sustaining needed habitats and species for the functional integrity of the ecosystem, which if altered may reduce the likelihood that the species will persist over the long term. These may include, but are not limited to, rare or vulnerable ecological systems, communities, and habitat or habitat elements, including seasonal ranges, breeding habitat, winter range, and movement corridors; and areas with high relative population density or species richness.

Frequently Flooded Areas - Those lands identified in the FEMA flood insurance rate maps, as amended, and approved by the County as within the 100-year floodplain.

Geologically Hazardous Areas - Those areas susceptible to erosion, sliding, earthquake, or other geological events that pose a threat to the health and safety of citizens when incompatible development is sited in such areas.

Critical Aquifer Recharge Areas - Those areas with a critical recharging effect on aquifers used for potable water.


1990 - The Washington Legislature passed the Growth Management Act (GMA). Although Cowlitz County is not required to "fully" plan under the GMA, it is required to identify and protect critical areas. Implementation of GMA requirements has been surrounded by conflict and lawsuits.

2007 - In response to GMA conflicts, the Washington Legislature charged the Ruckelshaus Center, known for collaborative problem-solving, to examine the conflict between protecting agricultural land and protecting critical areas under GMA.

2010-2011 - Based on recommendations from the Ruckelshaus Center, the legislature created Voluntary Stewardship Program at the Washington State Conservation Commission (SCC). VSP represents a voluntary, incentive-based approach that offers counties an alternative for meeting GMA requirements related to protecting critical areas and agricultural lands.

2011-2012 - Cowlitz County and 27 other counties across the state exercise the option to opt-in to VSP as an alternative to meeting GMA requirements. The Cowlitz County Board of Commissioners passed Ordinance on January 17, 2012.

2013 - The Washington State legislature made funds available for two pilot counties - Chelan and Thurston.

2015 - The State Legislature provided funding for implementation of VSP. On December 22, 2015, the Cowlitz County Board of Commissioners adopted Resolution 15-121 initiating participation in the program.

2016 - 2017 - The Cowlitz County Watershed Work Group is pursuing development of a Voluntary Stewardship Work Plan.

September 22, 2018 - Deadline for Work Plan approval by the Technical Panel.

2020 - Five year status report due to State.

2023 - Management of the Program was transferred to the Cowlitz Conservation District