"Farms embrace conservation, but not regulation"
June 12, 2008 · Updated 10:18 AM
"Though 50 years old, the Kitsap Conservation District is considered a breath of fresh air among the hundreds of farmers and ranchers currently living in Kitsap County.Especially since at least a few say they've felt stifled and overwhelmed by an ever-increasing number of county land-use regulations that are, in large part, a direct response to the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) guidelines or water-quality concerns as a whole.The conservation district is a non-regulatory agency, said Chuck Arnold, owner and operator of Bear Creek Meadows Ranch, and a private property owner who found a friend in the Conservation District. That's the key point in all of this.Arnold is but one resident who owns and operates one of roughly 2,000 ranches and farms scattered about the Kitsap peninsula.Don and Arletta Baskins, a retired couple, also own a farm in Poulsbo that encompasses parts of Dogfish Creek. They too, found a friend in the Conservation District when the couple first decided to improve the family farm, which has been passed down on Arletta's side of the family.Problem is, Kitsap farms are invariably bordered by or contain critical creeks and watersheds. As a result, water quality and fish health problems tend to surge to the forefront.Arnold, a self-proclaimed semi-retired professional who currently enjoys raising thoroughbred racehorses on his ranch, says he didn't know what he was getting into at first when he purchased his South Kitsap ranch more than two years ago. While prepping his 15-acre lot by clearing it of berry bushes and scotch broom, a neighbor called the county to complain about the raucous. Arnold's property encompasses Bear Creek, which drains into the Burley Watershed area. The creek's drainage area is plagued by perennial shellfish closures.In response to the complaint, the county provided Arnold with several options for working his land within parameters established by land-use regulations.On the one hand, Arnold could navigate his way through a fairly confusing permitting process and hire a soil scientist, or he could opt to work with the Conservation District. Officials with the district could help him craft a farm management plan without all the red tape, to the benefit of himself and the wildlife living about his property.He opted for the Conservation District.A somewhat road-weary Arnold finally contacted Joy Garitone of the Conservation District, and efforts toward prepping his land for race-horse rearing became much more palatable.Arnold's pastures slope and dip down toward the trickling creek, creating unique water quality challenges for him and others who work the property. But Garitone has helped him work the land to benefit his thoroughbred racehorse facility and area wildlife as well.It's been and educational process for me, said Arnold, who also helps rehabilitate injured racehores and rears falcons on his ranch. As a master falconer, I appreciate wildlife, and I appreciate nature, but I wasn't always sure how to go about preserving them.Under the U.S. Department of Agriculture approved farm plan, Arnold implemented progressive drainage alternatives and other wildlife and water-friendly facilities.A visitor on the ranch might notice immediately that the pastures are more than likely free of animal waste. That's because Arnold and other ranch hands diligently go about picking up the horse waste, which is immediately transferred to a sheltered compost pile on a northern slope. If Arnold doesn't use all that is picked up to fertilize his green, rolling fields, he gives the rest of the composted matter away.To accommodate deer and other wildlife, special fences were erected in particular patterns throughout his property, so such animals can travel down to the creek bed. Along Bear Creek, Arnold installed rocks at various places, as well as upland, so impurities filter out before rain-water runoff spills into the creek.Sometimes the fish are running through the creek so thick that you can just about walk across their backs to the other side, said Arnold, pointing to the creek, which meanders through his backyard.The crown jewel of Arnold's conservation management program, is the bridge he built from the driveway, across the creek to the other side of his ranch. That way, he can run farm equipment back and forth without crossing through the creek and spoiling water quality.Arnold didn't have to do that. Under county code, he was grandfathered in to cross the creek with farm equipment. Arnold says the improvements, which cost him big bucks, were well worth the cost.His ranch, after all, is just like a wildlife refuge, says Garitone.Beauty of it is, the plan came to be without formal regulation and, through the Conservation District, match grants are available for projects under certain conditions.Don and Arletta Baskins of Poulsbo would have to agree with Arnold's assessment of what the Conservation District can accomplish for small farm operators and the county as a whole.Quite understandably, the couple felt a tad overwhelmed when they returned to the quiet of Poulsbo several years ago from the hustle and bustle of Seattle. After all, on the farm, some project is always pending and some improvement in the works, they say. After the couple started to divide up the family farm to deed a portion to their son, the Conservation District wrote the couple a letter, proposing how Dogfish Creek could be preserved and maintained for generations to come by employing several management techniques on their property. Dogfish Creek, which carries salmon and other fish, drains into Liberty Bay.Don and Arletta liked what the District had to say.Soon, native plants were installed along the creek by local volunteers and, on March 4, anther such planting is in the works. The Baskins estimate more than 840 native plants will be installed to provide the creek and its salmon with much-needed shade.Special drainage systems were installed on their property, and an animal waste composting shelter was constructed as well.The planning and implementation means a lot of work for the couple, but they say it's worth it, as well. Hard work and planning now, means that the family farm will be available to their children's children and so on, for generations to come.That means everything to Don Baskins, since he grew up for the most part along that creek, and knows exactly what it's like to have access to such a valuable and pure resource. "