It has been two years since the Whitman County Voluntary Stewardship Program work plan was approved, and County Commissioner Art Swannack said the two-year status report that will be presented next month will show the program has been effective so far.

“Farmers are doing a better job of taking care of critical areas than what was earlier expected,” Swannack said.

Brad Johnson, Palouse Conservation District watershed manager, said the VSP works with farmers and ranchers to protect five critical areas while maintaining the viability of agriculture.

The five critical areas include wetlands, frequently flooded areas, fish and wildlife conservation areas, critical aquifer recharge areas and geologically hazardous areas on private lands.

Swannack, who is a member of the VSP workgroup, said the program is aimed at identifying landowners’ farming and ranching practices and helping them with funding so they can implement stewardship practices for protecting and/or restoring critical areas while maintaining strong farms and ranches.

“Whether or not private landowners are in a (government voluntary) program or not, we are interested in what stewardship strategies or practices they are doing on their farm,” Johnson said.

Swannack said the implementation part of the program started slowly, but outreach has improved over the last eight months as the group is starting to understand the best ways to contact potential landowner participants.

“It’s accelerated through the winter,” Swannack said.

Johnson said more than 40 landowners have signed up in the last four months to document their stewardship actions for the VSP.

Johnson said a five-year status report is due Feb. 2021. The report must show the program is working, which effectively means agriculture is remaining sustainable while the five critical areas are being protected and restored.

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Garrett Cabeza can be reached at (208) 883-4631, or by email to

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