Cultivating a place of integrity and common ground.
Finding a balance between salmon recovery and agricultural production has not always been possible – we must walk in the shoes of another to understand their hopes and fears.
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A 2 minute video highlighting the importance of the SLS
Sustainable Lands Strategy: An Overview
Explore one county’s efforts to move from combative to collaborative land use planning in the Puget Sound.
Stories from people with deep connections to the land and its residents
An interactive map on collaborative work supported by the Sustainable Lands Strategy
The History of the Land in Snohomish County and Why the Sustainable Lands Strategy Was Created
Since time immemorial, Tribal people have depended on the lands and waters of the Salish Sea, sharing resources and migrating with the seasons to hunt, fish, and gather foods. English explorers documented their impressions of the landscape as far back as 1792.
“The serenity of the climate, the innumerable pleasing landscapes, and the abundant fertility that unassisted nature puts forth, required only to be enriched by the industry of man with villages, mansions, cottages, and other buildings, to render it the most lovely country that can be imagined…”
– George Vancouver
Over the next hundred years, increasing numbers of white settlers came to North Puget Sound. In the mid-1800s, settlers moved to Snohomish County in droves. Logging was a booming industry and the land was quickly being cleared of trees. In the Snohomish and Stillaguamish floodplains, settlers saw the potential in the fertile mudflats and river valleys, and built dikes to separate the land from the water. They saw the land as a limitless resource that could feed their families and communities.
In 1855, the Point Elliott Treaty was signed by Puget Sound Tribes with the US government. The Treaty of Point Elliott established land boundaries for Tribal reservations, reserved rights to natural resources, and assured sovereign status (self-government) for Tribes. It also reserved the right to hunt, fish and gather in usual and accustomed areas, which was later upheld by Judge Boldt in 1974– commonly known as the Boldt decision.
Life for Tribes was fundamentally changed by signing the treaty, signing away their land and control of their lives for the promise of continued fishing, hunting, and gathering.
By 1900, thousands of acres had been diked, giving access to farming. Agriculture, along with logging, sustained the economy in Snohomish County for almost a century. Currently, agriculture in Snohomish County is a $157.5 million dollar industry, second only to aerospace. However, the historical success of agricultural production has had a direct impact on the ecosystem. Over 90% of the original floodplain wetlands in the County have been filled, drained, or channeled, leading to dramatic changes in the ecosystem and significant declines in salmon.
With salmon population numbers declining at an alarming rate, Puget Sound Chinook were federally listed as threatened in 1999. Historically, agricultural and forestry land uses were the source of most habitat loss. Presently, conversion of existing forest and agricultural lands to rural residential and urban uses is a leading issue for salmon recovery.
Today, Snohomish County is one of the fastest growing counties in the United States. From 2010 to 2020 the population grew by 16%, outpacing the growth of Washington State as a whole. With an increasing population comes the increased need for additional housing and associated infrastructure, putting an additional strain on habitat and agriculture.
The floodplains of Snohomish County are facing difficult and complex challenges. Land conversions and changing weather patterns threaten the livelihoods of farmers. Salmon populations continue to decline due to habitat loss. Large flood events are becoming more frequent and damaging. Competing needs to accommodate for population growth, Tribal rights, salmon recovery, and agricultural viability has created conflict in the County over the last few decades.
In 2008, that conflict came to a head when thousands of acres throughout the county were being considered for habitat restoration, much of that falling on active farmland in the floodplain. The Snohomish County Agricultural Advisory Board recognized this, and made a request that Snohomish County find a way to balance the goals and policies of the Growth Management Act. They called for a moratorium on habitat restoration projects until its concerns were addressed.
In spring 2010, the Snohomish County Executive and the Snohomish County Council launched the Sustainable Lands Strategy (SLS) to bring together Tribes and farmers to find common solutions that could support a balance on the landscape for salmon recovery, agricultural resilience, and floodplain connectivity.
June 21, 2010 was the first SLS meeting, convened by representatives from the Puget Sound Partnership, Washington State Conservation Commission, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Snohomish County, and the Tulalip and Stillaguamish Tribes. Over 12 years later, the values of the Sustainable Lands Strategy still hold, creating a collaborative table that brings together fish, farm and flood interests to share needs, find areas of agreement, and work together on projects to build mutual trust and actions. SLS is a voluntary table with an inclusive decision-making structure. As the late Terry Williams (former SLS co-chair/founder and Tulalip Tribal elder) would often say, “everyone has a seat at the SLS table.”
Together, we will find a way forward.