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NR 2001-64
October 20, 2001

Contact: Carol Dahmen
Mark Oldfield
Don Drysdale
Ed Wilson
(916) 323-1886

DEPARTMENT OF CONSERVATION GRANT HELPS PURCHASE
PERMANENT AGRICULTURAL EASEMENT ON DIXSON RANCH

ARROYO GRANDE, Calif. -- Citing the commitment of local government and the Dixson family to preserving agricultural land, California Department of Conservation Director Darryl Young today announced a grant that will help purchase a permanent agricultural conservation easement on the Dixson Ranch.

"The city's overwhelming support of agricultural preservation makes this an especially worthwhile project," Young said. "The project dovetails with the city's desire to protect prime farmland from urban encroachment. And the role played by Jim Dickens and his family, which has owned the property for almost 100 years, cannot be overstated. The property would have been developed many years ago were it not for the family's commitment to agricultural preservation."

Jim Dickens is the son of Sara Dixson Dickens, who, along with her sister Molly Dixson McClanahan, owns the property. The family's staunch support for farmland protection began with Jim's grandmother, Wilma Dixson, who developed a long-term plan for keeping their ranch in production.

The Dixsons received a $172,000 grant from the federal Farmland Protection Program and a $378,000 state grant from the California Farmland Conservancy Program, administered by DOC's Division of Land Resource Protection. The CFCP is designed to ensure that the state's most valuable farmland will not be developed. Through the program, local governments and non-profit organizations -- in this case, the American Farmland Trust and Coastal San Luis Resource Conservation District -- can receive grants to purchase development rights from willing landowners, thus creating permanent conservation.

"We hope other landowners around the county and the state will follow the Dixson family's lead," said Erik Vink, who heads DOC's Division of Land Resource Protection. "We have worked with the American Farmland Trust on several projects in the past and congratulate AFT on its efforts to protect threatened agricultural land. We also applaud the Coastal San Luis Resource Conservation District for its long-term commitment to steward this easement."

Vink noted that this is the first time a CFCP grant has been issued for a project within a city. However, the City of Arroyo Grande is unusual in that it has agricultural zoning and preserves within its incorporated boundary. The Dixson Ranch has also been under a Williamson Act contract since 1977.

California's agricultural production totaled more than $29 billion in 2000; San Luis Obispo County ranked 17th in the state at nearly $488 million. But California's population of more than 33 million is expected to grow to 50 million by 2025 -- San Luis Obispo County's population is projected to increase by about 90,000 -- and many acres of farmland are being developed to accommodate that growth. According to DOC's Farmland Mapping and Monitoring Program, nearly 43,000 acres of agricultural land throughout the state -- an area about the size of the city of Modesto -- was urbanized between 1996 and 1998.

"The need for programs designed to protect agricultural land, such as the California Farmland Conservancy Program, as well as for cooperation among landowners, land trusts and government agencies, is evident," Vink said.

CFCP funds remain for new grant proposals. Landowners and land trusts are encouraged to contact the Department of Conservation/Division of Land Resource Protection for information about the program and potential grant funding. The division's Web address is www.conservation.ca.gov/dlrp.

In addition to administering agricultural and open-space land conservation programs, the Department of Conservation ensures the reclamation of land used for mining; promotes beverage container recycling; regulates oil, gas and geothermal wells; and studies and maps earthquakes and other geologic phenomena.

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