Agricultural and Forest Lands
Skagit County prides itself on its protections for its natural resource lands.
Over the years, Skagit County has developed a number of mechanisms to help preserve working farmlands. Our Skagit River valley is blessed with some of the most productive agricultural soil in the world, and our overarching goal is to ensure those prime soils are preserved for farming.
In 1979, the County established, through zoning, a 40-acre minimum lot size for lands zoned Agricultural—Natural Resource Lands (Ag-NRL). This minimum size ensures that property is not divided into parcels that are too small to be productive. Combined with strong restrictions on non-ag uses on farmland, the zoning code has helped maintain almost 70,000 acres of Skagit farmland that supports an industry worth several-hundred-million dollars.
As another example, the zoning code holds that single-family residences in agricultural land are only permitted as an accessory use to agriculture. Through an Administrative Official Interpretation, the Department has established a rule requiring demonstration of three years of farm income in order to build a residence. Since 1991, zoning has also required residential dwellings in Ag-NRL to be constructed within 200 feet of the road or front property line.
Easement Purchases and Incentives
The Skagit County Farmland Legacy Program purchases conservation easements using the proceeds from a countywide conservation futures tax. Established in 1996, by leveraging its funding partnerships with state and federal agencies, FLP now holds on more than 10,000 acres of farmland, preserving it forever.
The County’s 1-Acre Seg provision (SCC 14.16.860), allows for the subdivision of a lot of record in Ag-NRL into a one-acre tract for an existing house when the property owner donates by a conservation easement for the remainder. Many thousands of acres have been protected through this incentive mechanism.
Skagit County has similar restrictions on forest land. Nearly a million acres of the County is covered in forest. While much of that is federally owned, the privately held parcels are protected from uncontrolled development through strong zoning protections.
The County’s commercial forest zoning consists of Secondary Forest, which has a 20-acre minimum lot size; and Industrial Forest, with an 80-acre minimum lot size. As in Ag-NRL, residential development in forest land is constrained by zoning. In Industrial Forest, residences must be accessory to timber management, located within 200 feet of a County road or state highway, and located within a fire district.
Forest Practice Rules
Forest practices are governed by the Washington State Forest Practice Rules and RCW Chapter 76.09. Some forest practices on some lands likely to be converted are governed by SCC 14.24.110 to ensure protection of critical areas. A 6-year moratorium on development applies to lands where forest practices have occurred, unless the forest practice was properly reviewed and approved for conversion from forestland to development.