23 November 2006

Farmers Lose...Wetlands Win

In yet another example of how the government take of private land extends beyond eminent domain, the Island County (Washington) Planning Department has enacted a Critical Area ordinance, which local green groups claim is not enough. In a nutshell, the ordinance limits development in critical areas (e.g. wetlands). Wait a minute; the ordinance not only limits the development of privately owned land, but farming as well. That's right -- farming. The original stewards of the land -- farmers -- are now being regulated as if they were planning a Mega-lo-Mart or the 895th Starbucks in town. The Snohomish County Herald reports.

Whidbey Environmental Action Network is suing the county. It alleged the new rules are based on faulty science and fail to protect these critical areas. The environmental advocacy organization has asked a Thurston County Superior Court judge to force Island County to redraft the rules and protect environmentally sensitive areas.

Ultimately, the group would like to eliminate farming near wetlands and streams, litigation coordinator Steve Erickson said.

"We don't think, by and large, streams and wetlands are the place to have livestock," he said. "Someone who lives downstream shouldn't have to worry about getting sick from someone's livestock (up) the stream. A trip to the beach shouldn't mean a trip to the emergency room."

County Planning and Community Development Director Phillip Bakke countered that the new rules would protect the environment. They also would make it tougher for farmers to practice near critical areas, he said.

For example, the new rules would force some farmers to develop farm plans in conjunction with conservation districts. Others would need to create setbacks from streams and confinement areas for manure.

Additionally, the rules would only apply to current farmers. New farmers would have to abide by the county's critical areas ordinance, which limits development around wetlands and streams. Though the ordinance was created with urban development in mind, it also applies to farming, Bakke said.

Tactics like this aren't limited to Island County, oh no. Right here in California, federal agencies such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, have banded together to draw lines on private property -- lines that establish wetland preserves on private land. If a landowner wants to develop his or her land in the Sun Ridge area of Sacramento County or many other parts of the state, they had better be prepared to give up huge chunks of their land if they want to stand a chance of getting development entitlements.

Think this could never happen to you? That nice little Creek that runs through your back 40 may become the next National [insert species name here] Preserve.

Linked at the following excellent sites: Third WorldCounty, bRight and Early, Cao's Blog, Right Wing Nation, and Basil's Blog.

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