Farmland and fish — both are iconic of Yakima County, and both will benefit from agreements made by landowners and partners to conserve the Cowiche Valley.
Located just outside the communities of Tieton and Cowiche, one of Washington’s Centennial Farms will be protected forever from development. On October 8, owners of the Stevenson Farm (est. 1870) closed on an agricultural conservation easement, voluntarily selling their right to develop the property and adding a permanent restriction on future development and subdivision to the property title.
The development right was sold to and will be held by the Washington State Conservation Commission (SCC) with funding from the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program. The easement includes a plan to protect the conservation values of the land, which will be maintained in partnership with North Yakima Conservation District.
The 98-acre Stevenson Farm supports livestock and irrigated alfalfa hay. It borders Cowiche Creek, a tributary to the Naches River that supports steelhead, bull trout, salmon, and other resident fish species. Under the easement, both the farmland and ecological value of the property will be preserved.
The North Yakima Conservation District worked with the Stevenson Family on several farm-friendly projects over the years that improve conditions for fish in Cowiche Creek, including fully restoring the riparian area. It was through this work that Mike Tobin, North Yakima Conservation District manager, learned how important preserving the ranching history and heritage of the property was to the family.
“The Stevenson Family felt they could best honor the past and serve the future by going into a conservation easement,” said Tobin. “As the last piece of a multi-year series of projects, this easement forever preserves all the economic, cultural, and environmental values on this property.”
It also brings the potential of conserving priority lands in the Cowiche Valley closer to reality. Owners of four adjoining farms worked with the conservation district to secure easements in 2018. Owners of another priority farm nearby are working with NYCD and the SCC Office of Farmland Preservation to pursue yet another easement for their property.
Tobin says partnering with landowners to preserve farmland through easements is a logical path for North Yakima Conservation District because easements protect any and all previous public investments made in natural resource projects.
“We have watched prime farmland in our area get subdivided and chopped up for development, and our conservation efforts are diminished when that agricultural property is lost,” said Tobin. “For all easements that the District is engaged with, we are committed to the management and stewardship of those properties forever. We’re vested.”
- North Yakima Conservation District
- SCC Office of Farmland Preservation
- Recreation and Conservation Office: Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program