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J.E. “Sam” Ryan, CBO

5280 Northwest Drive
Bellingham, Washington 98226
Telephone: (360) 676-6907

Critical Areas: Functions and Services:Farm Plans Critical Areas Logo

Conservation Program on Agricultural Lands: Farm Plans

CPAL Administrative Procedures Link
TIPS Handbook for Small Farms 2 Mb
Standard Farm Plan Checklist 81 kb
Farm Plan FAQs 154 kb

The Critical Areas Ordinance of Whatcom County (WCC 16.16) requires the protection of critical areas and their regulated buffers from harmful impacts.  On-going agricultural activities may be permitted within critical areas and/or their buffers with the submittal and approval of a Farm Conservation Plan.  Otherwise, all ongoing agricultural activities must comply with the standard regulations.

Agricultural operations, such as hobby farms, have an important role to play in community resource protection.  Because farming operations have important cultural, economic, and historical value in Whatcom County, the County is striving to strike a balance between farming operations and natural resource conservation.  Whatcom County has initiated an outreach program directed toward low-impact, ongoing agriculture operations.  The County has teamed up with Whatcom Conservation District to provide technical assistance on low-impact farm plans. 

Approval Process for Standardized Farm Conservation Plan

xLow impact farm plans, or Standardized Farm Plans, can be developed by the the farm operator, consultant, or the Conservation District.

Moderate Impact farm plans are customized and must be completed by the Conservation District or a consultant.


1. Determine eligibility – Are you a low-impact farm operator? Are there ongoing agricultural activities on your farm? Do your operation impact Critical Area Buffers?

Low impact Farm is less than one animal unit* per one acre of grazable pasture (includes hay and pasture land).

*One animal unit ranges from 1.2 au for a beef cow or mature horse to .2 au for sheep (AU = 1000 lbs live weight).

2. Conduct a critical areas assessment

3. Create a Farm Plan – fill out the Standard Farm Checklist and create a map, or contact the County CPAL coordinator (360.676.6907), a consultant, or the Conservation District to ask about technical assistance.

4. Plan Approval -  Submission of the Handbook  worksheets, site map, and submittal form constitutes a complete Farm Plan application.  The County’s Technical Administrator will review these materials.  If he/she finds the materials are adequate, then the plan will be approved and a copy of the Farm Map and  Handbook  will be returned to you.  The County will collect and hold only summary information contained in the submittal form.

5. Implementation – Apply best management practices in accordance with the approved farm plan.

6. Monitoring – Implementation of best management practices according to those described in the approved farm plan will be reviewed once per year.