Agricultural Activities in Critical Areas

Project Background

Officially docketed by the Board in 2020, this project considers updates to Chapter 17.15, Agricultural Activities Critical Areas and Title 24, Critical Areas Ordinance to integrate with the County's approved Voluntary Stewardship Program Work Plan. 

The Voluntary Stewardship Program (VSP) was enacted by the Washington State Legislature in 2011 to create a voluntary process to achieve Growth Management Act critical area protection and agricultural viability goals (RCW 36.70A.700-760). In enacting the Voluntary Stewardship Program, the state legislature allowed counties to "opt into"  a voluntary, non-regulatory and collaborative process to maintain and enhance agricultural viability while also protecting and enhancing the functions and values of critical areas, which are evaluated on a watershed basis.

The Thurston Board of County Commissioners opted into the Voluntary Stewardship Program on January 12, 2012 and on April 20, 2017, the Washington State Conservation Commission formally approved the county's VSP Work Plan. As approved, this plan covers all existing and ongoing agricultural activities, defined in RCW 90.58.065 as: 

"(A)gricultural uses and practices including, but not limited to: Producing, breeding, or increasing agricultural products; rotating and changing agricultural crops; allowing land used for agricultural activities to lie fallow in which it is plowed and tilled but left unseeded; allowing land used for agricultural activities to lie dormant as a result of adverse agricultural market conditions; allowing land used for agricultural activities to lie dormant because the land is enrolled in a local, state, or federal conservation program, or the land is subject to a conservation easement; conducting agricultural operations; maintaining, repairing, and replacing agricultural equipment; maintaining, repairing, and replacing agricultural facilities, provided that the replacement facility is no closer to the shoreline than the original facility; and maintaining agricultural lands under production or cultivation."

Following approval of the VSP Work Plan, the Department of Commerce recommends a code update to clarify development regulations for any new agricultural activities and facilities not covered by the plan.

Community Engagement

We welcome your feedback on how the county regulates new agricultural uses within critical areas. Share your thoughts with us here.

Project Timeline

The project timeline is tentative and subject to change--last updated July 18, 2022.

  • Summer-Fall 2022 - Planning Commission Review & Public Hearing
  • Fall 2022 - SEPA Determination

  • Winter 2022-2023 - BoCC Review, BoCC Public Hearing, BoCC Final Action