Published August 2005

Farmland disappearing
into federal wetlands

By SCBJ Staff

Farmers in Snohomish County are lamenting the lost of about 2,000 acres of farmland to a federal wetlands restoration program over the last few years.

Snohomish County Farm Bureau President Dale Reiner said at a meeting in Monroe last month that the wetlands program no doubt helps wildlife and the environment but farmers may have to set aside up to 600 feet of agricultural land next to wetlands, putting it out of production.

U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Wash., a member of the House Committee on Agriculture, attended the meeting.

Reiner, a Monroe dairy farmer, said “we need to save both” farmland and wetlands. The Wetlands Reserve Program operated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture provides farmers who volunteer for the program with technical and financial help to restore and preserve wetlands on their properties.

By 2002, the county’s decline in agricultural land, which totaled 195,000 acres in 1945, had reached a level of only 69,000 acre, according to county figures. Many sections of remaining farmland are not being farmed, officials said, and farmers are under pressure to convert their lands into other uses, including play fields for children.

The federal program is among several wetland restoration programs that farmers can choose from, Reiner said.

After the meeting, Larsen visited farmland a few miles south of Monroe off Highway 203. The 500-acre property just south of the Snoqualmie River will likely be turned back into wetlands through various means, including the federal program, Reiner said.

On 230 acres of the land, Habitat Bank LLC of Woodinville has already begun to restore the wetland, said Steve Sego, one of the owners. The firm hopes to profit by letting developers use the restored wetland to make up for other wetlands lost to economic developments elsewhere.

Across the river, corn was growing on another farmland. The land is preserved through a different federal program, the Conservation Restoration Enhancement Program, which allows a farmer to create a much smaller buffer than the wetlands program and preserve the rest as farmland, Reiner said.

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