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Summer 2011

Skeptics Oppose Rangeland Conservation Program

Recent public meetings have spurred opposition to the California Foothill Legacy Area Plan, a federal easement proposal aimed at protecting foothill rangeland in California. The proposal calls for creating 4 “study areas” encompassing 18 million acres with a goal of acquiring easements on 900,000 acres of rangeland.

The proposal by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has held public scoping meeting throughout the state to solicit ideas from private landowners, ranchers, local officials and members of the public about the plan. The meetings were held near the 4 “study areas” including: Bakersfield, Porterville, Le Grand, Sonora, Red Bluff and Hollister.

Officials with USFWS seemed surprised at the opposition to the proposal. Many concerns centered around the boundaries of the map. Locals stated that they had seen the map before created by The Nature Conservancy, but USFWS would only say that it was created in coordination with the California Rangeland Conservation Coalition (CRCC), of which TNC is a signatory supporter.

Other concerns question how the federal government was going to fund such a program with our current economic conditions. Federal officials explained that funding would come from revenues from the Land and Water Conservation Fund, therefore using federal funding and making the purchase of the easements a public transaction not a private one. Congressman Wally Herger provided comments at the Red Bluff public meeting and captured the federal funding concerns very well,

“Some might argue that the California Foothills Legacy Area program does not actually use taxpayer dollars, because it would be primarily funded by revenues received from the Land and Water Conservation Fund which receives money from royalties on oil rigs.  That’s a distinction without a difference, in my view.  It is still federal revenue, and thus still money that could be allocated for a different purpose.   Indeed, it has long been my position that revenues from the Land and Water Conservation Fund should be used to help manage land that the federal government is already responsible to steward and yet is not managing, as opposed to using those resources for additional land purchases or to create new obligations for the federal government.  It concerns me that federal agencies routinely complain that they do not have the resources to manage the land is already their responsibility to manage, and yet they seem to have an insatiable desire to expand the federal land base or, in the case of easements, expand agency land management priorities on to private lands. Additionally, it is not unusual for these federal agency priorities to run contrary to the land management plans of local government.   For these reasons, I oppose the California Foothills Legacy Area program and I will oppose the use of federal funds to implement it”, said Congressman Wally Herger.

While the pressures on the ranching community are great and easements may offer short-term financial relief for some operations the proposal put forward by USFWS is in direct conflict with local General Plans and opposed by many whom would be affected by the proposal. This plan has gained momentum by the elimination of the state Williamson Act subventions payments. Contrary to this plan the Williamson Act is widely supported by those in the farming and ranching industries. It is a bleak outlook for future Williamson Act monies in the legislature, but this program is far more overreaching and burdensome to farming and ranching families than the Williamson Act.

The California Cattlemen’s Association (CCA) along with many local Cattlemen’s groups, including the Colusa-Glenn Cattlemen’s Association, have also come out in opposition to the CFLA. This news creates an awkward relationship between CCA and CRCC, whom according to USFWS officials inspired the plan. While CRCC has over 100 signatory supporters, many of them have taken a different stance on this new federal proposal.

As a private property rights advocate Family Water Alliance echoes the concerns of many local farmers and ranchers. While this plan may be voluntary we have all seen the ways landowners are cornered and persuaded to become willing “volunteers”. It seems more prudent to invest in programs, such as the Williamson Act, which is supported by those in the agricultural industry than to create entire new programs.

Over the past few decades we have seen private property rights eroded by government plans such as wilderness areas, wild and scenic rivers, conservation areas, roadless areas and last, but not least the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Slowly but surely the rights of private property owners have been mapped in to plan after plan after plan. While many may not be affected by this current proposal, if USFWS is successful implementing this plan it is one more devastating hit to ranching in California.

For more information on the CFLA go to http://www.fws.gov/cno/refuges/planning/cfla.cfm ■

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