By Kate Campbell
Updates to a 10-year state plan for protecting wildlife and habitat could have far-reaching implications for California agriculture. Meetings are being held around the state through mid-November to discuss regional wildlife and habitat issues before an update to the State Wildlife Action Plan is completed in late 2015.
Agricultural policy experts urge farmers and ranchers to attend regional scoping meetings conducted by the state Department of Fish and Wildlife to understand and comment on proposed changes and additions to the plan that may affect their operations after the update is adopted.
“Without agriculture, there would be significantly less wildlife habitat in California,” said Noelle Cremers, California Farm Bureau Federation natural resources and commodities director. “The plan needs to recognize the habitat values agriculture provides and find ways to support those activities. That’s why participating in the plan update to explain these ongoing activities is important.”
For example, she said, the new plan needs to recognize the value of grazing. There are about 40 million acres of grazing land in California, nearly 40 percent of the state’s total land mass, and most of it is privately owned.
The previous state wildlife plan repeatedly describes grazing as a threat to wildlife, Cremers said.
“Actually, privately owned and managed rangelands are a huge resource for native species, particularly birds. This is recognized by signatories of the California Rangeland Resolution, which include DFW,” she said.
Pelayo Alverez of the California Rangeland Conservation Coalition said rangeland science has “exploded” and new findings need to be factored into future wildlife habitat planning.
“Ranchers have always said, ‘The critters have been here all this time. We must be doing something right.’ Now, we have the science to prove it,” Alverez said. “Future strategies need to reflect that.”
State wildlife managers said the plan update will include ranking threats by ecological regions, adding new climate change analysis and identifying at-risk species and habitat, with the goal of helping prevent species from becoming extinct or requiring costly protections for survival.
“Farmers and ranchers are probably the leading source of habitat in California and have a vested interest in the SWAP update,” said Bob Gore of the Gualco Group in Sacramento, which represents a variety of agricultural clients on public policy matters.
He said farmers and ranchers in the various locations where scoping meetings will be held need to attend, to assure DFW hears the opinions of all stakeholders.
“It’s vital because without the education farmers can provide, agency staff will focus only on their own viewpoint and miss the insights available from people who manage and interact with wildlife habitat daily,” Gore said.
Cremers said a number of improvements could be made to the plan update process and the final guidance document. For example:
Remove the plan’s focus on land acquisition, because the state doesn’t have funds to manage properties it already owns.
“Land acquisition is not the solution,” Cremers said.
Focus on ecosystems, rather than single-species management, because efforts made to help one species can create problems for another that have to be fixed later, at added cost.
Discuss the environmental impacts of marijuana cultivation, a subject not mentioned in the existing plan document.
Work on collaborative solutions instead of regulatory mandates, recognizing the importance of improved collaboration and outreach between DFW, private landowners and other stakeholders.
“This plan is important because it’s going to create an overarching land management strategy for the state,” said Margo Parks, California Cattlemen’s Association government relations manager.
“DFW has identified what it calls threats to the environment, which frequently means farming and ranching,” Parks said. “If there is no one there to tell the department that what has been listed as a threat actually isn’t, then the department will carry on and be none the wiser.
“It’s really important that farmers and ranchers participate in this planning process,” she said. “It needs to be made clear agriculture should not be listed as a threat to the environment.”
Scoping meetings about the wildlife plan will include presentations by DFW environmental scientists who will discuss draft conservation strategies. Information on meeting times and locations are available online at www.dfg.ca.gov/swap/.
Credit to the California Farm Bureau Federation for this article.