We all benefit from farmland protection, stewardship – Marin Independent Journal
Like all of you, I’ve heard a lot about Measure A recently, including questions about how much funding goes to farmland protection and criticism of the Marin Agricultural Land Trust.
As Stewardship Program Manager for MALT, I am responsible for site assessments for our agricultural conservation easement projects. I collect comprehensive data on the natural resource value of farmland in four main categories: ecological health, thriving community, climate resilience, and thriving agriculture. We assess each property based on its protection value, the risk of it falling out of agricultural production, and the potential to improve all of these conservation goals.
Recently, county officials listened to the community to think carefully about how best to allocate funds to help make Marin an amazing place to live, work and play. Marin supervisors expressed broad support for farmland protection and stewardship activities. I appreciate and agree with this assessment. Marin is expected to maintain the 20% allocation, with a higher percentage being made available to the Marin Resource Conservation District. We must continue to protect and steward this land we all know and love.
I spend a lot of time with people who own and work the farmland in Marin. What I see makes me realize that there are a lot of basic misconceptions about A-Measurement, Marine Agriculture and MALT.
Let me try to dispel some of these misconceptions.
Misconception: Funding farmland protection through Measure A amounts to misappropriation of public funds as it provides no public benefit.
Public access is not synonymous with public interest. It’s easy to reap the tangible benefits of public access – hike beautiful trails or enjoy a sea-view picnic on a rolling hillside. The public benefits of well-maintained farmland, though less obvious, are at least as important. They include:
• Contributions to the local economy in the form of jobs, local food and fiber production, and tax revenue
• Improved ecological health of the land through increased biodiversity, carbon sequestration, rehabilitation of waterways and streams, and protection against wildfires
• Prevention of large-scale development and accompanying environmental problems, such as increased pollution, traffic, and fire hazards, as well as the loss of valuable natural and landscape values.
Misconception: Agricultural conservation easements line the pockets of wealthy landowners.
Agriculture and animal husbandry are difficult and economically risky activities, even at the best of times. If local farmers cannot live off their land, conservation easements may offer developers the only, or at least the best, alternative to sale. Easements provide a lifeline, not a gravy boat.
Misconception: Measure A funds allocated to the protection of agricultural land go to MALT. MALT acts as a conduit for funds, not a recipient.
As a land trust, we can apply for Measure A funding for the purchase of agricultural conservation easements. If the application is accepted, the money is transferred from the county directly to the landowner. In every easement transaction, MALT matches these funds at least one-for-one from private donations or public grant programs through national or state conservation agencies. At no time do the funds become the property of MALT.
Myth: We need to focus on forest fire protection, not farmland protection.
It is a false dichotomy. Well-managed farmland is essential to protect the region from devastating wildfires. Well-managed rangelands decrease fuel loads from livestock grazing, increase water infiltration, and promote lush, healthy riparian areas that can slow fire progression.
Again this year in Lucas Valley, a wildfire moved through an area of open space and public trails, approaching a residential neighborhood. When it hit a grazed ranch, the fire slowed and firefighters took control.
Misconception: MALT has already secured enough land in Marin, so there is no need to invest in additional easements.
Approximately 54,000 of the county’s more than 100,000 acres of private farmland is protected by MALT conservation easements. Unprotected lands remain vulnerable to development and fragmentation, and related threats: loss of habitat and biodiversity, increased erosion, and accumulation of fuel loads fueling forest fires.
Measure A is a way for county residents to directly contribute to our shared vision of a Healthy Seafarer for all to enjoy. Let’s not let misconceptions underestimate the importance of investing in our farmland. Please join me in urging supervisors to keep the Measure A Farmland Protection Allocation at 20%.
Eric Rubenstahl is stewardship program manager for the Marin Agricultural Land Trust.