By Haley Costamagna
Commitment to Conservation
As a person with deep ties to rural parts of Northern California but studying environmental law in the San Francisco Bay Area, I often encounter the myth that farmers and rancher oppose environmental protection and the environmental movement. However, nothing could be further from the truth. While farmers and ranchers do not always agree with environmentalists and regulators, there is much they do agree on. I have family and friends involved in a variety of agricultural commodities, such as wine grapes, timber, row crops, cattle, and dairy cows. Since I have these connections, opportunities arose for me to observe exactly how farmers care for their land. In my experience, farmers are dedicated to improving their land and protecting the environment plays an integral part in doing so. In 2002, the California Farm Bureau Federation published the Report, “Commitment to Conservation,” which explores exactly how farmers and ranchers protect the environment. The California Farm Bureau Federation’s National Affairs and Research Division interviewed fifty different farmers and ranchers and analyzed the voluntary actions they are taking to enhance wildlife. The Report breaks up California into eight different regions: North Mountain Region, North Coast Region, Sacramento Valley Region, Central Valley Delta Region, San Joaquin Valley Region, Sierra Region, Central Coast Region, and South Mountain/Valley Region. I choose to look specifically at some of farmers and ranchers in the North Mountain Region, North Coast Region, and Central Valley Delta Region because of my personal connections to those regions.
North Mountain Region
Herb Jasper’s cattle ranch is home to populations of mule deer, antelope, elk, geese, ducks, pheasants, quail, and at least eight species of fish. Jasper serves on a committee designed to deal with thriving elk population. Further, Jasper has been implementing stream conservation in order to preserve fish habitats including the red-band trout that at one time was a candidate for listing on the Endangered Species Act. Jasper has worked with California Department of Forestry, Bureau of Land Management, Trout Unlimited, US Fish and Wildlife Service, CA Fish and game, and the California Farm Bureau. Although many agencies are helpful, sometimes working with so many different agencies with varying goals makes things difficult.
George McArthur’s cattle ranch and crop fields are home to many species. McArthur is involved in stream bank restoration, planting willows, bank stabilization projects, tail water return systems, and rotational grazing. Sometimes while harvesting, McArthur will find eggs that he incubates and releases the birds later. McArthur emphasizes that he feels a sense of responsibility to implement conservation efforts in order to not only improve his operation but also to improve wildlife.
Mike Bryan is a fourth generation cattle rancher and hay farmer. Bryan conservation practices include fencing off the riparian zones for controlled grazing, riverbank improvement, and nesting habitat for wildlife.
North Coast Region
Frank Leeds is a vineyard manager in Napa County. His main focus has been on river restoration caused by erosion issues. The river restoration plan implements living systems such as willow mattresses in order to stop the erosion of the river and restore stream banks. Leeds has also worked to remove wild non-native plants from the region.
Larry Mailliard’s forest ranch is 10,000 acres of old growth, redwood, Douglas fir, and oak stands. Mailliard selectively harvests dilapidated trees and has planted over 900,000 seedlings surpassing the California Department of Forestry’s standards. Milliard does have some concern over new regulations each year which have driven up harvest costs as well as paperwork. Harvest plans are now 200 pages as compared to 20 pages. Further, Millard’s ranch is home to the spotted owl so old growth areas on his ranch are protected.
Central Valley Delta Region
Randy and Brad Lange’s wine grape vineyards are home to quail and owls. Lange’s bio-sustainable farming incorporates sustainable management practices such as planting native trees and grasses, controlling weeds, targeting pesticide use, planting cover crop, and installing 70-80 owl boxes.
Harley Graese is the California Waterfowl Association District Manager. The CWA started a project in order to protect the wood duck. Many local farmers and landowner have contributed to the project by monitoring and maintaining nesting boxes.
There are a number of key takeaways that the report provides. First, these few example demonstrate not only a variety of actions that farmers and ranchers have taken to improve the environment, but also shows that many of the methods used are fairly easy to implement and cost effective in the long run. Second, most farmers respect wildlife and appreciate the ways wildlife contributes to their operations. Third, several of the farmers interviewed emphasized the need and effectiveness of voluntary involvement. Thus, imposing more regulation to improve the environment may sometimes not be as effective as encouraging people to use good environmental practices. That may be due to the fear that land rights will be restricted if mandatory regulations are implemented or because farmers disagree with the sometimes burdensome process.
I truly believe that many ranchers and farmers respect the land they share with wildlife and strive to protect and maintain wildlife. However, I know that sometimes restrictions are needed. However, implementation of environmental objectives by non-regulatory means, including voluntary efforts, can also be just as effective if not more so. In the end, by educating and incentivizing farmers, governmental agencies gain allies and strengthen support of those communities that are oftentimes closest to the environment that is to be protected, enhancing the effectiveness of the government’s efforts to preserve the environment for generations to come.