Farmers in Whatcom County have been doing their part to reduce pollution in local waters but they have reason to feel besieged by environmentalists and regulators who inspect and snoop around their farms.
Here is what he wrote on the topic, which is of very high interest to many throughout the county:
Too Much Attention
Farmers are facing far more scrutiny — and it doesn’t feel good. There is no argument that we need to be good natural resource managers and be held accountable for how we manage our farms. But there are consequences to having a myriad of inspectors/snoops patrolling our farms.
The Department of Ag inspectors responsible for dairy nutrient management plan inspections have been joined by a team of EPA inspectors from Tacoma who are sporadically visiting dairies to inspect their surface water runoff management. Furthermore the Puget Sound Partnership is focusing state dollars on placing more water quality inspectors in the Bellingham Department of Ecology field office to conduct more inspections. In addition, RE Sources, a Bellingham based environmental advocacy group has been privately funded to kayak streams in the ag area to try and discover runoff violations or concerns and report them.
Farmers have reason to feel besieged. Anyone who tries to work with a natural system knows that we don’t have complete and perfect control over all aspects of it. Perfection is not an option. Nevertheless farmers have been doing their part – witness the decline in fecal coliform counts in the past decade.
Protection of shellfish from fecal coliform is a community goal. We share that goal and have gone to great lengths to keep manure out of streams. All of our dairy farmers have detailed nutrient management plans which are regularly inspected to ensure compliance. Yes there can be problems, but they are relatively isolated and always fixed. Farmers are getting progressively better at managing their nutrients. The track record is clear on that. We recognize the pace of water quality improvements has leveled off. The obvious work has been done. The remaining fecal contamination is going to be much more difficult to isolate and solve.
Just what are farmers’ rights when approached by inspectors or private citizens seeking farm access? As with most legal matters, rights nearly always depend on specific circumstances. It is reasonably clear that you don’t have to allow immediate access to your property without a court order. A routine, unannounced visit by an inspector could be requested to be done at a more convenient time. However, if an enforcement officer believes that the stream is being contaminated on or from your farm they likely have the authority to enter immediately.
Water access via the creeks and streams is a new issue. It seems clear that the stream /creek/ditch that meets the “navigable waters” definition is open to the public. For example, if a kayaker meets a logjam and has to get on land to circumvent it, it seems as long as they are within the “ordinary high water” level of the stream they are within their rights to do so – even if your fields are posted for trespass.
Farmers desire to be good citizens. At the same time farmers are very concerned over being held to an unachievable standard. It is simply not fair. Farmers will do their part to manage responsibly. The record speaks for itself. Farmers make an important contribution to our community and our environment. We want to be respected for our care of natural resources – not targets.
- Henry Bierlink
What do you think?