Supporting our Community: Balancing Development and Conservation

An aerial view of No Goat Farm at the corner of Towne Rd and Woodcock Rd, which was permanently conserved by our community in spring 2024. Photo by John Gussman.

North Olympic Land Trust’s mission is to conserve the land and natural resources that continue to be the foundation of our culture, economy, and way of life. It’s easy to focus on the first phrase, “conserve the land and natural resources…,” but the reality is our work is more about the second half of our mission, protecting the “foundation of our culture, economy, and way of life.” 

To meet our mission, the Land Trust works with willing private landowners to conserve lands our community has deemed important for protection. How do we know our community conservation priorities? We are guided by our community, and a number of factors come into play.

Comprehensive Plans

We look to the County and regional Comprehensive Plans to protect the lands or types of lands identified as needing protection. We also recognize the need for areas of human growth–places for people to live, work and recreate. For example, Comprehensive Planning has prioritized where to encourage growth and development, primarily in Urban Growth Areas, LAMIRDS, and cities. These areas are best suited to meet our housing crisis because they have the infrastructure (sewer, city water, traffic lights…) to handle increased population.

How does this play out: These Comprehensive Plans recognize that many farmlands in Sequim were historically subdivided into 5-acre lots. These farmlands, at any time, can be sold parcel by parcel to build one home. This might sound like a solution to a housing crisis, but we ask you: what types of homes are built on 5-acre lots in Dungeness? Single-family homes. 

Did you know, city blocks aren’t even 5-acres [most are 2 acres], and they can fit dozens of families! Yet, a 5-acre lot in Sequim will fit only one family. 

Can folks experiencing a housing crisis afford homes in 5-acre lots in Sequim? Generally, no. Folks facing a housing crisis are typically not the same folks who can afford to build a home on vacant farmland. Ensuring that these single family 5-acre residencies can continue to be built–at the expense of local farmland and farm jobs–is not in our community’s best interest. 

Making the 5-acre parcels even smaller isn’t a solution either because there is not enough infrastructure in these rural areas that are home to farmland to support dense development. The City of Sequim has explained, to install the necessary infrastructure in the farmland areas, it would be extremely expensive–that’s why Sequim still doesn’t allow city lots on farmland. They couldn’t responsibly build the infrastructure to support them. 

But, just a couple miles down the road there’s a city–Sequim–with infrastructure and space to grow. That’s where the Sequim housing crisis will be solved–not on 5-acre farmland parcels. Of course, we recognize not everyone wants to live in a dense city, and a quick real estate search will highlight that there are rural lands and homes on the market.

Climate Resiliency

The Land Trust partnered with Jefferson Land Trust and the Land Trust Alliance to conduct a climate resiliency analysis. This data is used to help us focus on conserving lands that stand to retain their conservation value into the future, despite climate change. We invite you to learn more here.

Farmland Surveys

Not all farmland is created equal–our focus is on conserving the most viable farmlands for future generations. We look at soil maps, irrigation, historic crop successes, current or potential for job creation, marketability, and adjacency to other farmland. We also consider the potential climate change impacts on farmland, and focus on conserving those lands which stand to retain their farming value. Pointedly, if a potential farmland does not meet our conservation goals, we do not conserve it. Our goal is not to conserve everything, it is to strategically conserve our most important lands, especially those at risk of being lost or developed. 

Biological & Habitat Surveys

The Land Trust relies on biological and habitat surveys to prioritize habitat conservation. Surveys include State, Tribal, and even Federal reviews of Peninsula lands and waterways. This analysis is best understood with an example. Along the Elwha River there are a number of privately held riverbanks. It is not possible to conserve all of them, therefore we focus instead on parcels that have been prioritized by wildlife biologists for the Lower Elwha Tribe, National Park researchers, and other surveys to support fish habitat and salmon recovery.

Recreation Considerations

When conserving lands that we own, we consider the public use values of our lands. Our public areas are an important part of the community. They are free for everyone, and provide safe places to surf, walk, bike, horseback ride, or walk your leased pet. Our public areas are used by several non-profits, including the Forks Hospital, the North Olympic Library System, and the Port Angeles Fine Arts Center. We also use our public areas to educate the public about ecology, to get folks involved in restoration, and to help us survey and identify flora and fauna. In alignment with the Comprehensive Plans of our area, our public areas fill an important need for free, accessible outdoor recreation and learning opportunities. 

Community Input

The community continues to teach us about what is most important for conservation. In Forks, this means performing forest fire hazard mitigation, especially after the fires in 2023. We carefully consider conserving forests within the City of Forks because we understand that the community may have other needs. In Port Angeles, Friends of Ennis Creek and the Port Angeles Garden Club have continued to highlight community desires for conserving Ennis Creek. This goal originated from the community, and has led to important land use decisions not only by us, but also by the City of Port Angeles. Finally, the Land Trust embarked on prairie restoration and creation. This work stemmed directly from community outcries that our local prairies–the plants and animals that rely on them–are disappearing.

Land is the bedrock of our daily lives on the Olympic Peninsula. Though the action of our work is “to conserve lands,” the heart of our mission (the “why”) is to protect our “culture, economy, and way of life.”