Now is a Good Time to Review Your Lease

DNR-managed trust land in agricultureWith 2015 well underway and irrigation season upon us in many areas, it’s time to review your agriculture lease. In particular, take a look at Section 2.01 Permitted Use to refresh your memory on the allowed uses to ensure that you maintain lease compliance. Section 2.01 spells out exactly what type of use may occur under the lease agreement. For example, if an irrigated agriculture lease states the following:

2.01 Permitted Use. For this lease, the following use(s) and no other use(s) is/are permitted:

PERMITTED USE ACRES AUTHORIZED CROPS
Irrigated Agriculture 500 Potatoes, Corn, Peas, Timothy, Alfalfa,
Conservation 140 Wildlife Habitat

Crop type and rotations are agreed upon before the signing of the lease. The lessee can grow only the crops listed under the column “Authorized Crops.” DNR calculates the annual rent based upon the fair market value of the crops being grown on the lease. In cases where an unauthorized crop is planted, the unit land manager must recalculate the lease rent and, possibly, collect additional funds from the lessee to make the Trust (which receives the revenue) whole. Lessees who want to plant crops not authorized in their lease agreement must obtain advance written authorization from DNR.

Another item to note: grazing is not listed as a “Permitted Use” so livestock cannot graze the 140 acres of wildlife habitat, or aftermath graze the crops grown on the 500 acres of irrigated agriculture. Grazing of wildlife habitat is non-negotiable; however, the lessee may request authorization in advance to aftermath graze the irrigated acres. If the unit land manager determines that there will not be adverse impacts from removing the crop residue, DNR will issue a letter authorizing the lessee to allow aftermath grazing. The letter will also spell any additional rent due based on the number of animal units the department allows to graze.

As a lessee, it’s always a good idea to review your agriculture leases on annually to re-familiarize yourself with the requirements of each section. Doing so may help avoid problems and expenses down the road. As always, your DNR unit land manager is available to answer your questions.

By Tim Kopf, Washington DNR, Southeast Region Unit Land Manager, Southeast Region Office: 509-925-8510 and Northeast Region Office: 509-684-7474; tim.kopf@dnr.wa.gov

Agricultural Education is a “Hands-On” Experience in DNR Partnership with Southwest Washington School District

Center for Agriculture, Science,  & Environmental Education, Battle Ground, WA

The Battle Ground School District has turned an 80-acre parcel leased from DNR into a thriving center for agriculture education.

DNR-managed trust land in Brush Prairie, just south of Battle Ground, is providing students and community members with ready access to a host of learning opportunities and services. The Battle Ground School District leases 80 acres of Common School Trust land from DNR at market value. On this lease, the school district’s Center for Agricultural, Science and Environmental Educational provides a unique outdoor (hands-on) agricultural learning experience for students. The outdoor learning opportunities include a fruit orchard, greenhouse, nursery, and garden. Students also get a taste of the agriculture marketplace by taking part in fund-raising events to sell their plants and produce.

The school district subleases a portion of the agricultural land for blackberry and strawberry production, providing further learning opportunities for students. Timber and recreation management, an arboretum, botanical gardens, ponds, and science and computer labs provide additional lease opportunities.

This land lease serves as an agricultural community hub by housing an array of services, including offices of the WSU Cooperative Extension, Farm Service Agency, USDA Rural Development, Clark County Noxious Weed Control, and Clark Conservation District. The Battle Ground School District office also is located on the lease site. Over the longterm, the school district hopes to purchase the entire 80-acre parcel from DNR. When that happens, DNR will invest the proceeds into purchasing replacement income-producing state trust land.

DNR derives trust income from this parcel by establishing land rent based on the highest and best use of each of the five land uses permitted through the lease. These include: irrigated agriculture, dry land agriculture, storage and composting demonstration, experimental forest, and administrative buildings and classrooms. At five-year intervals, the value of each permitted use is updated and the rent adjusted.

The DNR partnership with the Battle Ground School District has served trust beneficiaries, the school district, students, and the local community very well by generating trust income, consolidation of services, and most important, providing a unique and valuable learning opportunity for children.

By Pat Hennessy, DNR Western Washington Lease Manager, pat.hennessey@dnr.wa.gov

Meet DNR’s New Agriculture Program Manager: Noah Bates

Noah Bates, DNR Agriculture Program Manager

Noah Bates, DNR Agriculture Program Manager

For my first contribution to The Dirt, and as a new agriculture program manager, I thought that I’d provide an introduction. I am a recent transplant to Washington and based in Olympia. I moved here with my wife, Alexis. Prior to this position, I lived in a small town of about 1,200 people in the mountains of northwest Colorado where winter lasted eight months and subzero temperatures were common, but the spring and summer always made up for it. I was based in a rural NRCS field office in a “Partner” capacity tasked with implementing the NRCS’s Sage Grouse Initiative. I provided rangeland management support at the field level to deliver technical assistance to private land owners and ranching enterprises. Prior to this, I worked at a ranch in Gunnison, Colorado, as a natural resource manager. From my work, I developed a love of sagebrush steppe ecosystems and grass hay and livestock production in mountain environments – this is what I know best.

Before working in natural resources and agriculture, I earned a bachelor’s degree in urban and regional planning from the University of Colorado, and worked as a land use planner with city and county governments in the state. The county government I worked with had a robust open space and agriculture program that inspired me to return to school to further my education. I focused on rangeland ecology initially and then found a program that offered a Master of Science in Integrated Resource Management through the Western Center for Integrated Resource Management at Colorado State University. The program was a good fit for my interest in technical application to rangeland management, agriculture enterprise, and regional planning.

I am excited to work in my current capacity for the diverse agricultural enterprises that Washington supports and the natural resources, habitat, and wildlife issues that are associated with these enterprises. I also look forward to being involved with generating revenue and building value for the Common School Trust and other trusts for which DNR manages agricultural lands. I think it is a good fit for the skillset and knowledge I’ve built up over the years and I look forward to putting it to good use for DNR and Washington producers.

Please consider this an open invitation to contact me any time to introduce yourself. I’d really appreciate the opportunity to learn about the issues in your area and how I can best support your work and business in my current capacity. I enjoy being in the field, and welcome any invitations to learn first-hand.

By Noah Bates, Agriculture Program Manager, noah.bates@dnr.wa.gov, 360-902-1873

 

 

The Importance of Rotation in Crop Production Demystified

crop rotation promotes healthier crops and soilsMaintaining soil and plant health through crop rotations is critical to the profitability of the leases in DNR’s land base over both the short and long term. Because DNR-managed acreage is for perpetual use to benefit the Common School Trust, rotations and diversity are necessary to safeguard the quality of the land base. Diversity of rotation affects all parties: from the lessees to the school districts that receive construction funds from DNR’s leases.

Crop rotation can be defined as any cropping structure that creates biodiversity, prevents resistance of disease to inputs used by the lessees, and provides the basis to increase or at least maintain soil organic matter and flora. Simply put, monoculture of rotational crops provides breeding grounds for loss of income due to soil disease from pests such as nematodes, insects, weeds, plant parasitic fungi and bacteria, that flourish on lands where crops are in short rotation.

An example of how the lack of diversity and short rotations impact the natural environment is on the island of Oahu. Lands used for decades to grow pineapple are being returned to native Hawaiians are found to be infested with nematode, invasive weed species, resistant fungi and other parasitic pests — all the result of past agricultural practices. At first the land was fertile from the biodiversity of the native vegetation. Then a monoculture with one primary crop began. Machinery brought in weeds and other plant pests into areas that were once free of disease. Because of competition to grow crops ever cheaper and improve yield, fumigants were used extensively and programmed into the growing of the pineapple. Native Hawaiians now must deal with the disarray, clean it up and reintroduce crop biodiversity to eliminate resistant pests.

The situation in Hawaii is not unlike that of the potato industry. Washington state leads the world in potato yield per acre but the crop brings in adhering soil from the seed source that may contain fungi or nematodes that, for example, may negatively affect the skin finish of the potato. At first, fumigation was used to rid the soil of the pests and weeds. Shortening up the rotations from a one potato crop in (5) years to a one potato crop in (3) years increased revenue for the trust but it also began the process where rotation becomes key again.

The soil on many of the lands in Washington state with which DNR is entrusted is the best in the world; it is very similar to Hawaii’s virgin pineapple growing areas. At first the soils here produced huge yields without fumigation and Washington state became a major factor in global potato production. Now the honeymoon is over. Fumigation, combined with fertilizer additions, helped maintain yields for a while but now disease agents are becoming resistant to fumigation agents. Some of the weed population is also now resistant to herbicides. Fungi such as silver scurf and blackdot are becoming more prevalent in fresh pack situations.

Fumigation is almost a programmed event: eventually, diseases like pink rot will impact the processing crop of russet varieties. The way out of this downward spiral is to maintain rotations where disease resistance is broken, and annual fumigation is not necessary. Think about it another way: McDonald’s recently announced that it will not buy chicken from companies that use antibiotics in their feed rations. The company took this step because humans use the same antibiotics and the increased prevalence of antibiotic use in the general population has led new strains of bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics.

Our food system needs rich diversity and DNR-managed trust lands need this rich diversity of rotational crops to support public school construction for Washington state’s children into perpetuity.

By Jeff Bragg, DNR Agriculture Manager, Southeast Region, jeff.bragg@dnr.wa.gov

Carlton Made an Impact on State Lands in DNR’s Northeast Region

Carlton Complex Fire destructionLittle did I know that on July 14 our world in the DNR Northeast Region would be turned upside down. By the time the Carlton Complex Fire was finished, the magnitude of its force was hard to comprehend. Many questions would need to be asked and answered, assessments of damage determined, and a plan developed for recovery.Then, FEMA showed up. The President’s approval of public assistance was welcomed but also brought additional layers of work as we chartered unfamiliar territory for Northeast Region staff.

Carlton burned more than 48,000 acres of DNR-managed state trust lands. By far, most of these acres were grazing lands. Collectively, 17 preference permits within 5 permit ranges; 29 grazing leases; and 5 agriculture leases were impacted. More than 17,000 acres of forestland, 2 natural area preserves, and a lookout tower were burned or damaged as well. The sheer scale of damage to these and the trust assets associated with them was incomprehensible and consequently complicated the assessment in the direction of recovery.

Carlton Complex Fire-fencing destroyed

Some of the 77 miles of fencing on DNR state trust land destroyed in the Carlton Complex Fire in July 2014

A small army of land managers was dispatched to Carlton even before the flames had subsided to begin the difficult task of inventorying the damage. Many hours were spent on this effort. Later, many more hours were consumed compiling and assessing the damage.  More questions than answers permeated throughout the process. Calculating the damage to the level of precision required to obtain FEMA assistance brought additional challenges. Attention to detail at every level of the assessment was necessary to insure that the damaged assets would be repaired. This effort identified more than 77 miles of damaged range fencing. In addition, several stock water tanks and their associated watering systems were damaged.

Aside from an inventory of infrastructure damage, there was the assessment of the range condition to complete as well. Re-establishing monitoring plots and setting up new ones would be required so the range condition could be monitored over the years to follow. New baselines were developed for comparison of forage recovery and an overall health assessment of the plant communities. Follow-up visits each year will determine when the range can be grazed sustainably again. Initial estimates range from two seed set periods to five years rest may be necessary before cattle can occupy the pastures or leases again.

Much of the inventory, assessing, and planning is complete. The next phase will be the actual recovery effort that is expected to take two years – just in time for pastures that successfully develop forage quickly. A combination of contracting Washington Conservation Corps crews, and possibly correctional camps crews, is expected to be deployed to complete the repairs. Some of this work will include complete replacement of older fences made primarily with wood posts. Everything has been prioritized and charted on workflow charts. Since FEMA is a reimbursement program, the challenge will be to fund the work and the supplies that will be needed.

My hat is off to everyone who participated in this process for the professionalism and dedication they exhibited throughout the process, despite the frustrating challenges. Without their commitment, we would not be as far along as we are today.

By Bob McKellar, Northeast Region Assistant Region Manager, State Lands.

Upcoming Farm Program Deadlines

Dryland agriculture lessees should be aware of several approaching deadlines for participation in federal farm programs. See the Farm Service Agency (FSA) website for more information on these programs.

January 30, 2015, is the deadline for the no-penalty early termination of conservation reserve programs (CRPs) where landowners and operators want to return CRP ground to dryland crop production. If you are interested in returning CRP to sustainable crop production, please contact your land manager well in advance of the deadline, so DNR staff have time to evaluate the proposal.

February 27, 2015, is the deadline for updating your yields and base acre reallocations with FSA. There has been some confusion about Washington State Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR’s) intentions regarding the new commodity/safety net programs and the Base Reallocation and Yield Update Decision for ARC and PLC Programs (form CCC-858).

To clear up the confusion, DNR expects that our lessees/operators will:

  1. Update base reallocations and commodity yields on the CCC-858 form to whatever is most beneficial to the operator. FSA will provide the forms with updates to DNR for signature, and DNR will return them to FSA offices via email. For newer operators who do not have access to yield records for years 2008 to 2012, DNR can provide those records to the operator.
  2. Elect to the safety net program in the best interest of the operator. Election must be completed by March 31, 2015.
  3. Enroll in the safety net program in the best interest of the operator. Enrollment deadlines have not yet been set by FSA.

DNR has limited staff time allocated to management of federal farm programs, so we urge our lessees to not wait until just before a deadline to provide base acre and yield updates, and elect and enroll in the safety net programs.

The BAER Team Experience after the Carlton Complex Fire

rill erosion

On a slope with rill erosion, the author poses with soil shovel in hand ready to work in the dirt.

Following the devastating Carlton Complex Fire in the summer of 2014, I was surprised and then very honored to be asked to participate in the first-ever multi-jurisdiction assessment team with the United States Forest Service (USFS) Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) team.

Since I was born and raised in Okanogan County it meant a lot to me to be part of the team assessing the impacts of the fire. I was amazed by the magnitude of devastation and feel empathy for folks who suffered losses. I reflected on my heritage as I walked over the scorched lands on the same ground where my great-grandfather once traveled as a stagecoach driver from Pateros through Carlton onto Twisp and Winthrop.

The formation of the multi-jurisdiction assessment team is the result of a request by the Okanogan Conservation District to Governor Inslee. The team was assigned to conduct a rapid assessment of the fire area to determine whether the after-effects of the fire will pose a threat to life or property or will cause unacceptable degradation of natural or cultural resources.

After President Obama signed the Disaster Declaration on August 11, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) began coordinating with the Okanogan Conservation District and USFS to staff this team to complete an assessment on public and private lands.

The BAER team came together in a short amount of time and members included specialists in soils, hydrology and weather, engineering, fisheries, wildlife, range, cultural resources and GIS. The team represented national, state, local agencies and organizations from Washington state and other parts of the west.

sever head cut caused by erosion

The author stands on a Forest Service road looking at a severe head cut caused by erosion in the wake of the Carlton Complex Fire.

The team’s task was to collect and compile data and provide recommendations for emergency stabilization and long-term restoration to minimize impacts on private property and lands managed by Washington State Department of Natural Resources, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Confederated Tribes of the Colville Nation, Bureau of Land Management, and the U.S. Forest Service.

This two-week assignment consisted of long and tiring days, a high learning curve, great networking with professional experts, and an opportunity to employ adaptable management. It was awe-inspiring and humbling to experience the power and yet the forgiveness of nature.

The first day consisted of meeting team members, outlining our goals for threats and hazards, emergency rehabilitation treatments, and safety protocols. The next five days were set in the field performing transects and collecting data and validating the intensity of the fire to produce a final burn soil severity map. Actually getting to work in the dirt! The following week consisted of compiling and organizing the information for writing the BAER report. At the time it seemed daunting and an almost overwhelming task under a deadline.

quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides) grove

A quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides) grove regenerates following rainfall. Photo: Bill Oaks/DNR

Burned Area Reflectance Classification (BARC) and aerial reconnaissance data were combined to develop a preliminary “High”, “Moderate”, and “Low” fire intensity map for the Carlton Complex Fire. BARC imagery depicts the “intensity” or above-ground fire effects for making interpretations of fire impacts on pre-fire vegetation, soil and hydrologic conditions.

I understand now and have been enlightened that there is a difference between fire intensity and severity, learning that fire intensity and soil burn severity are often incorrectly used synonymously.

“Fire intensity relates to the above-ground fire effects generally identified through visual observations of changes in the overstory vegetation and ground fuels (type, amount, arrangement, and moisture content). Soil burn severity is the effect of fire at and below the ground surface, specifically how the fire changes the physical and chemical composition of the soils. While fire intensity is not primarily a reflection of wildfire effects on soils, observed changes from pre- to post-fire vegetation are used as indicators to estimate soil burn severity as a function of watershed response. Fire severity that detrimentally impacts soil conditions leads to further degradation of soil productivity and soil-hydrologic function

Source: Sawtooth National Forest, BAER, Cave Canyon Fire, Soil Resource Assessment, August 26, 2012)

With the loss of both overhead canopy and ground cover, severely burned soils lose their ability to protect the surface and absorb precipitation properly.

 bitterbrush (Purshia tridentata),

Skeletons of bitterbrush (Purshia tridentata), an important plant for wildlife and for post-wildfire restoration throughout the West. Photo Bill Oakes/DNR

The results of the assessment helped to identify the severity of the fire and potential post-fire effects to critical values such as human life and safety, property (roads, buildings, municipal, domestic and agricultural water systems, etc.), degradation of natural resources (soil productivity and hydrologic function), habitat for federally listed species, cultural and heritage resources within or in close proximity to burned lands. Hazards that put values at risk include hillslope erosion, flooding, debris flows, and establishment of invasive or noxious plant species. One important outcome was to prioritize locations for aerial seeding treatment.

Grasses growing with some Bitterbrush (Purshia tridentata) regeneration. Photo: Bob Oakes/DNR

Grasses growing with some bitterbrush (Purshia tridentata) regeneration. Photo: Bill Oakes/DNR

It is very difficult to capture the entire process in this article of creating the BAER report and there is much more to explain. It is a complex and interrelated progression that pulled together efficiently and effectively to produce a high quality product. Hopefully, we can take this experience and turn it into positive outcome and provide vision for the future; by having a team in place ready to hit-the-ground-running if anything closely resembles this unfortunate natural disaster occurs again.

I am grateful for this unique opportunity and learned a lot from associated colleagues of the project and ensuing comradery. Their dedication, cooperation and professionalism were inspiring and I am proud to have participated in this first ever inter-agency BAER team. Hopefully, I was able to contribute in small way something positive to the unfortunate people involved in this tragedy, DNR, and the environment.

I fought fires early in my career with both DNR and the USFS but the Carlton Complex was unlike anything I had ever seen. Although some areas looked like the proverbial “bomb struck it”, being able to actually get out in the “dirt” was an exciting adventure. To sum up my interesting experience, it reaffirmed my belief that just like the laws of conservation of energy and matter, the law of life can change form but cannot be extinguished!

Wishing everyone a healthy, productive and prosperous year to come. Happy trails,

Bill Oakes, Agricultural Stewardship, Monitoring and Compliance Specialist, DNR Product Sales & Leasing Division