Thursday, November 13, 2014

Wintery weather halts travel but not my message
Collaborative partnerships deliver real solutions

by Maia Bellon, Ecology Director

A healthy environment and thriving agricultural community can go hand-in-hand. Wheat and other cereal grains grown in eastern Washington are valuable and important to our state.
I had hoped to be headed to Skamania Lodge today to speak with the Tri-State Grain Growers Convention, but icy weather had a different idea. In the interest of safety, I had to change my plans.

I am disappointed that I was not able to spend time with the agricultural community today. My best days at work are those spent in the field getting my boots dirty. I look forward to each opportunity that gets me in the same room or field with farmers and ranchers.

Washington’s agricultural industry is incredibly valuable and important to our state. A healthy environment and a thriving agricultural community are not mutually exclusive. Both are important to our way of life, our heritage, and our economy.

I believe that many of our ranchers and farmers are among the best stewards of the land. We all want the same thing: a strong economy, healthy land, clean water, and clean air.

Over the years we have worked with the agricultural community and found solutions together. We may not always see eye to eye, but when we work in partnership we can make real progress.

Achieving results — together

For example, in the early 1990s, smoke filled the air during the summer when the agricultural community was managing crop residue from cereal grains. It was unhealthy for people and the environment. Together we identified a balanced solution and the Agricultural Burning and Research Task Force was formed. Diverse interests began working collaboratively on reducing air pollution. This collaboration has been so successful that it is being used as a model by other states.

You may also have heard about my Agriculture and Water Quality Advisory Committee. I assembled a broad array of interests to improve working relations and ensure that Washington has both clean water and a healthy agricultural industry.

Together we have identified new approaches and started making changes. Just recently we shared with the advisory committee changes we made to our “watershed evaluation” program. This evaluation process helps us identify water quality problems, prioritize our work, and directly follow up with landowners to assist them in fixing pollution issues.

The changes include:
  • Better upfront communication
  • Engaging with producer groups
  • Ensuring our communications clearly identify the problem
  • Increasing clarity on what constitutes pollution problems
  • Working toward consistency between staff and regions

My most important message to our agricultural community

I welcome your ideas and perspective. I even welcome disagreements. It is healthy as long as we keep talking. Together we are learning that all of us around the table need to be flexible to keep working-lands working.

I know that together we can find on-the-ground approaches that can preserve agricultural lands and achieve clean water.

Thank you, especially to the Washington Association of Wheat Growers for leading by example.

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