Delay likely on buffer deadline


May 24 deadline could be extended until November

Skagit Valley Herald

The deadline for Skagit County farmers to select a buffer plan likely will be pushed back again.

The deadline, currently May 24, will be extended to late November if the county commissioners sign an ordinance expected to be presented to them on May 20 or 21, according to Ric Boge, the county’s natural resources program manager.

Farmers who want to receive the signing bonus offered by the county have to sign up for the federal Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program by May 24, though.

County officials have been encouraging farmers to sign up for the federal program, which offers twice the payments as the county’s old program — which is no longer being offered anyway because a state judge threw it out last year.

The federal program currently requires buffers about 150 feet wide. State officials say buffers as narrow as 75 feet might be allowed by August, although they would pay less on a per-acre basis.

Farmers who install buffers will be reimbursed for the installation costs, then paid an annual rental fee that depends on the soil type. Anyone who signs up for the federal plan by May 24 will also get a signing bonus from the county worth $40 per acre per year for up to 15 years.

Farmers who sign up for the program will have about six months to declare how wide they will make their buffers, so they can sign the “intent to enroll” form now and still install narrow buffers if those are approved later.

The original deadline for farmers to declare a buffer option was Nov. 27, 2001. That was pushed back just days before the deadline after the county’s primary plan was thrown out in the courts.

Buffers are strips of land along salmon-bearing streams planted in trees and grasses that are intended to protect habitat for the endangered fish.

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